The Denver Broncos are hanging on to slim playoff hopes as they get set to host the Cleveland Browns in Week 15. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:20 EST on Saturday, December 15, at Broncos Stadium in Denver. The game will be televised on the NFL Network.
Oddsmakers list the Broncos as 3-point favorites at home with an over/under of 45.5 points. Click here to see a full list of the Week 15 NFL betting odds.
The Broncos have the slimmest of playoff chances following last week’s disappointing loss to the 49ers. The loss snapped Denver’s three-game winning streak and dropped them to 6-7 on the season. They are now a game behind four other teams that are 7-6 and tied for the final wild-card spot in the AFC. That means it’ll take three wins and a considerable amount of help over the next three weeks to get the Broncos into the playoffs.
The silver lining for Denver is their manageable schedule late in the year. In addition to the Browns, the Broncos will also play the 3-10 Raiders and the Chargers, a team they beat on the road last month. That schedule leaves the door open for the Broncos to win three straight and let the chips fall where they may. However, last week’s game against the 49ers was supposed to be a relatively easy win for Denver, and that turned out to be not the case.
As for the Browns, they will need a minor miracle to reach the playoffs. Cleveland currently has a 0.2% chance of reaching the postseason. They would need to win road games against the Broncos and Ravens, along with a home win against Cincinnati in between and hope that nearly every other game involving an AFC team goes their way over the final three weeks of the season. Of course, for the Browns, it’s nice to have any hope of reaching the postseason now that we’re midway through December.
For what it’s worth, the Browns have won three of their last four games, including an impressive win over Carolina last week. They sit at 5-7-1, so even if three wins don’t get them to the playoffs, winning out would give them a winning record on the season. Cleveland shows no signs of rolling over late in the season, so expect the upstart Browns to keep playing hard down the stretch.
I’m officially selling on the Broncos. On the surface, this is a game they should win and need to win. But last week’s loss to San Francisco had to have been a backbreaker for their confidence. With key players like Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Harris out due to injury, the Broncos just don’t have the horses to finish the season strong. I like the upstart Browns to keep it going and win on the road.
For what it’s worth, the Broncos are giving up less than 18 points per game over their last five contests. They’ve also played three teams during that span that will probably make the playoffs, so they’ve held their own against some quality teams. But letting Nick Mullens throw for over 300 yards and getting hurt by an offense whose best player is a tight end is inexcusable. With Harris and others in the secondary banged up, this is a vulnerable defense.
The key for Denver’s defense is getting teams into must-pass situations and letting their pass rush do the heavy lifting. However, they haven’t stopped the run consistently enough to make that happen, which doesn’t bode well for them against the Browns. Nick Chubb has run for at least 65 yards in six of his last seven games. He’s also scored six touchdowns during that span, giving the Cleveland offense a consistent rushing attack. As long as that continues, Baker Mayfield should have enough time to find the holes in Denver’s secondary.
On the other side of the field, the Broncos have become a one-trick pony. They’ve become reliant on running the ball, which wasn’t there last week against a modest San Francisco defense. Rookie sensation Phillip Lindsay was held to 30 yards on 14 carries. Outside of one nice run by fellow rookie Royce Freeman, the Broncos couldn’t muster much on the ground.
Without success running the ball, Case Keenum throwing the ball just isn’t enough for Denver right now. Even with 42 pass attempts last week, he was held under 200 yards passing. Without Sanders, the Broncos are lacking a deep threat that opposing defenses have to respect. They are also lacking experience at the wide receiver position, which hurt them against the 49ers a little more than I was expecting.
In fairness, the Cleveland defense has been a little inconsistent this year. However, they held Carolina’s impressive rushing attack under 100 yards last week. Between Keenum and a dearth of proven wide receivers, Denver’s offense is nearly as limited as the Carolina offense. That makes me think the Cleveland defense will be just fine on Saturday.
In the end, this has the makings of a close, low-scoring game, as both teams will try to run the ball to help set up the rest of their offense. Even with the Browns facing a tough road game, I think Mayfield and the Cleveland offense are more likely to find a breakthrough in the passing game. With no pressure on the Browns, I like them to knock off the Broncos, who know they have no margin for error after last week’s disastrous loss.