It's the time of year in Cleveland where you step outside, and can see your breath. It's the time of year in Cleveland where and you just come to expect snow to drop at any given moment.
And now with Mike Pettine, Jim O'Neil and Kyle Shanahan in town, it's that time of year where the Cleveland's strengths of running the football and a hard-nosed defense will come to the forefront.
"We said a long time ago that we wanted to build a team, an offense especially, that was all-weather," said Pettine in a recent interview. "You need to run the football sometimes. Whether it's high wind, snow, frozen field, you've got to be able to do it."
Even with an offense now featuring two rookie running backs, Cleveland's 351 carries went into Week 13 ranked second in the NFL. The forecast for Buffalo on Sunday is a low of 37 with rain showers and gusty winds anticipated. This season-long strategy of being a run-first team will benefit the Browns.
"We want the football in our hands," said Isaiah Crowell about the added pressure of carrying the rushing attack.
This isn't to say Brian Hoyer, Josh Gordon and the receiving corps won't be important against the Bills or down the stretch. Their success and failures will alter games.
But the point for the passing attack is to be the secondary asset to the rushing attack. If the weather and other factors prevent Cleveland from throwing for 300 yards, the team should not only be able to survive, but thrive behind Crowell, Terrance West and the offensive line to do a majority of the dirty work.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns' resurgence as a run defense couldn't have come at a better time. There was a point earlier in the season where other teams consistently gashed Cleveland on the ground – even converted Jacksonville quarterback Denard Robinson. That hasn't been happening as much in recent weeks.
Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver told ClevelandBrowns.com his unit is playing their best football of the season. Particularly it's been Desmond Bryant who has played "lights out football" according to Weaver over the last month and a half. Last week against Atlanta, Cleveland's run defense could do no wrong. The Falcons posted only 63 yards on the ground and it's arguable that their one-dimensional approach lost them the game.
Buffalo uses an eclectic trio of backs the Browns will see on Sunday. Anthony Dixon has solidified himself as the workhorse with C.J. Spiller sidelined. Fred Jackson is a huge threat with his hands. And Pettine called reserve back Bryce Brown a "home-run hitter." Even more so than the Atlanta game, it will be big for Cleveland to take away this facet of Buffalo's offense – getting an early lead and putting the game in the hands of Kyle Orton.
The Browns are coming off an emotional win, but so are the Bills. Cleveland's victory was a buzzer-beater; Buffalo's was a smack-down statement on a neutral field against the Jets.
"There's definitely a buzz in the locker room, the meeting rooms and out on the practice field with the players," said O'Neil about the Bills game. "You can sense that it's a playoff-type atmosphere already; it's a rivalry-type atmosphere."