CLEVELAND – The Packers are looking to keep their season alive for the possible return of QB Aaron Rodgers, while the Browns are eyeing a game against a backup quarterback as an opportunity to win their first game of 2017.
Here’s a rundown on what to watch for.
1. Winter weather: The forecast for Cleveland is a high of 30 but with winds off Lake Erie up to 20 miles per hour. Those could affect both the passing and kicking games. Will playing with the wind or into the wind in the fourth quarter be a huge factor late in a close game? Maybe.
The Packers have found a running game, and their two rookies – Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones – are both healthy now after their individual stints as the feature back. They haven’t been used in tandem before, but the possibilities are intriguing against one of the league’s top run defenses. The Browns are allowing only 3.3 yards per carry all season, best in the NFL. 2. Run test:
3. New playmaker: Browns WR Josh Gordon returned from a three-year absence to catch four passes for 85 yards in a close loss to the Chargers last week. More important, he was targeted by QB DeShone Kizer on 11 of his 32 passes. The Browns will be determined to get Gordon the ball, and the job could fall to third-year CB Damarious Randall to keep Gordon in check with Kevin King going on injured reserve this week and Davon House doubtful with a shoulder injury.
For as valuable as it will be for the Packers to establish their running game, Head Coach Mike McCarthy stressed all week the need for Green Bay to get the ball to its top perimeter weapons – WRs Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. QB Brett Hundley’s first start, back in Week 7 vs. New Orleans, didn’t go well in that regard, and a lack of opportunities for the Packers’ playmakers was evident again last week. The big three need to get the ball. 4. Perimeter players:
5. The elephants in the room: The Browns are trying to avoid becoming the second team in league history to go 0-16 and keep the 2008 Lions all by themselves. The desire to dodge infamy will be strong, particularly if Cleveland is sensing late it has a chance. The Packers are hoping to get Rodgers back next week, and his return to practice this week generated a lot of attention, but it’ll mean nothing if they let this game get away.