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Browns-Bills: 5 things to watch for


1)      Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West vs. The Bills' front-four

If there was ever a game where the Browns need to successfully run the football, it's this one in Buffalo. The prowess of the Bills' defensive line is arguably the main reason Buffalo is in contention for a playoff spot. Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams bash offensive linemen and completely disrupt offensive game plans.

It'll be up to Crowell and West to run North-South and not East-West. Several members of the offensive line told that center Nick McDonald played his best game, by far, against the Falcons and that truly helped Crowell and West average 5.6 yards per carry. The measure for success will be different in Buffalo. Three yards per carry may seem ugly at the time, but if it puts the Browns in third-and-short situations, Cleveland can quell the damage Buffalo's defensive line is known to create.

2)      Donte Whitner

A war of words on Twitter and in interviews have been exchanged by the Browns' leader on defense and the Buffalo Bills. Running back Fred Jackson called Whitner an "idiot" on Wednesday while Whitner responded by saying, "I like Fred Jackson… I guess I'm in their heads."

Whitner needs to channel all of that animosity into big plays on the field Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Browns feel comfortable with Jim Leonhard at free safety but he will be the first to admit he doesn't have the playmaking range of injured safety Tashaun Gipson. Because of the circumstances of snow in Buffalo, this game will be played off emotion – and that's generally when Whitner is at his best.

3)      Joe Haden vs. Sammy Watkins

In more than half of NFL mock drafts, the consensus was that with the fourth overall pick, Watkins would become a Cleveland Brown. It didn't shake out that way – Cleveland grabbed a 2015 first round draft pick in a trade with Buffalo – and both teams have wildly exceeded their 2014 expectations.

Watkins can do everything on a football field but he's going up against arguably the hottest cornerback in the NFL. If you include Haden's diving tipped pass to Whitner against Tampa Bay, the cornerback has forced four turnovers in the last five games and also blanketed A.J. Green, Andre Johnson and Julio Jones during that span.

4)      Brian Hoyer

Four > three. Hoyer's four throws on the final drive against the Falcons ended up mattering more than his three interceptions. Say you what you want about Hoyer: he leads the NFL in fourth quarter comebacks (four). The challenge will be stiff in Buffalo, where the Bills possess the fifth best pass defense in the league.

After what he originally called one of the worst games of his career, you better believe the Browns' signal-caller will be amped up to show to his doubters, and more importantly himself, that he's the quarterback who can push Cleveland into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

5)      Josh Gordon vs. Buffalo's secondary

It's hard to believe Gordon was able to post eight receptions for 120 yards in Atlanta – all while knocking off rust during the game. Hoyer targeted Gordon 16 times which helped free up Andrew Hawkins for 93 yards of his own. If Buffalo is able to stifle the Browns' running game – which will without question be a major part of their game plan – Cleveland might have to rely on Gordon to help them move the sticks.

Cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin (four interceptions) and Corey Graham (10 passes defended) make up one of the most underrated units in the league. But stats don't matter against Gordon: if you make one slip-up against him, he'll burn you like a piece of toast.

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