Talk about a game bigger than “the game” this weeks Browns/Colts matchup certainly fits that bill. There will be many things to watch and look for in this game and here are just a few:
1) Can the Browns prove on their home field that they deserve to reach the playoffs in 2014? This game really defines that question in a clearer way than any other event on the field this year. The Colts are clearly a playoff team. They have the best young quarterback in the game and possibly the best quarterback in the game. It is unlikely that they will look past the 7-5 Browns. This is a real test of the Browns talent and toughness. Something Mike Pettine has stressed from the start is the need to develop a team with both mental and physical toughness. Beating the Colts after a tough loss to Buffalo would provide a resounding “yes” answer to the question of whether they embody that toughness.
2) Can Brian Hoyer simultaneously save his job and save the Brown’s season? Everyone will be focused on the first part of this question I am afraid but I will be focused on the second part. The 2014 Browns have proven better than any Browns team I can remember since 1999 that they are able to stare adversity in the face and overcome it. They now own the all time NFL record for a visiting team comeback in a game. Can we actually fathom that fact? No team in the HISTORY of the NFL has come back from that deficit on the opposing teams field. Hoyer, with a winning performance today, has a chance to solidify not only a chance at the playoffs but a chance for this Browns team to be different than any since 1999. He will also solidify his position as the starting quarterback for the Browns in 2014 and make a great case to be a starter beyond 2014. The sad thing is that this might be in another city but so it is in the tough NFL.
3) Can Brian Hoyer secure his family’s financial future by playing like a champion and winning an improbable game? This is not the question most Browns fans will be focused on, but it is an intriguing question. If Hoyer fails in this game, he has almost certainly lost his starting job for the rest of this season. He might sneak out one more game but that would likely be all. Johnny Manziel will finally become the focal point of the Browns quest to become a playoff team in the future and Hoyer will simply drop off the map. The chance of Hoyer getting a big contract after that will be slim to none. Even though he might command a decent raise, the amount of guaranteed money will be dramatically less. Make no mistake about it, this is a critical game for Hoyer personally and professionally.
4) Can the Browns defense prove once and for all that they can play with the “big boys”? This is a dramatic test for them because they are facing such a dynamic triple threat quarterback. Luck is an underrated runner and a load to bring down. In addition, he has great intelligence and instincts as a quarterback. They have not faced this type of quarterback for many weeks. Andy Dalton is, quite frankly, a joke of a quarterback despite his yearly salary so don’t put him in that class. Matt Ryan is close to that caliber but the team around him is not. It has been since week 6 and Roethlisberger that the defense has faced a real threat at the quarterback position.
5) Can the Browns actually find out what it is like to play meaningful games in December? This game would be a huge step in the development of the Browns franchise going forward. They need to prove to themselves, much more than anyone else, that they belong in the playoff conversation until the end of the year. This game will likely make that possible and give the organization and the fans a needed boost.
We all will be glued to the TV or the field watching this play out. It is another test for Cleveland in it’s ascendance as a city and sports relevancy. If the Browns can do anything close to what the Buckeye’s did last night, we all will have a great week ahead. GO BROWNS !!!