At first blush, the New England Patriots' statistics aren't what one would call overwhelming. Sometimes, stats lie. Consider this one of those times.
The Patriots, who make their first CBS appearance in six years tomorrow against the Browns, rank 19th in total offensive yards in the National Football League, 16th in passing and 14th with their running game. Defensively, they surrender 22 points and 384 yards a game, 282 through the air.
But when those underwhelming stats translate into a team that averages 29 points a game and produces a 6-1 record, you have a pretty good idea of what the Browns have to look forward to. The Pats don't look pretty on the stats sheet, but they look absolutely beautiful on the scoreboard.
And that's the only statistic that really counts. All the Patriots do is win. It might not be as cosmetically appealing as in the years during which they won three Super Bowls, but Bill Belichick is a bottom-line guy and the bottom line sure looks pretty good right now.
The Patriots beat you up in a number of ways -- through the air, on the ground, with special teams and an opportunistic defense. This might be the best team the Browns have played this season. Anything less than a near-perfect performance will result in a 2-6 record.
There will be no excuses for this one. The Browns are coming off a bye and Eric Mangini, who prides himself in being fully prepared for opponents, has had the extra week to prep and is certain to have a surprise or two for his former boss.
It most likely won't be as dazzling as the package he and his coaching staff unveiled in the New Orleans victory a couple of weeks ago. But Mangini knows the best way to beat Belichick teams is with sound, fundamental and extremely aggressive football.
Mistake-free football is one of the hallmarks of Belichick teams. This season, for example, New England quarterback Tom Brady has thrown just four interceptions. The Pats are +7 in turnover ratio. They rarely beat themselves.
The Browns, coming off one of their infrequent zero-turnover games, must take care of the ball in order to have any chance at stretching their winning streak to two games.
With rookie quarterback Colt McCoy exhibiting tendencies to take extra care of the football and Peyton Hillis showing signs of finally shedding a nagging fumbling problem, it would not surprise that the Browns give the Pats all they can handle for the better part of three quarters.
In fact, it could turn out to be somewhat of a scoring bonanza considering the weakness of both teams' secondaries. Neither team has what you'd call an outstanding pass rush. So Brady and McCoy figure to have plenty of time to strafe each other's secondary.
The big difference is that Brady has the ultra-reliable Wes Welker, Deion Branch and a couple of nice young tight ends in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. And the Browns have to be careful and keep an eye on running back Danny Woodhead, who is just as dangerous a receiver as he is a runner.
McCoy, meanwhile, has a receiving corps that has not overwhelmed this season. It will be interesting to see how much he involves them against the Patriots. In his two starts, he seems to have favored tight ends, running backs and only one wideout, Chansi Stuckey. That'll have to change, especially against the Pats' shaky pass defense.
About the only way the Browns' defense can stop Brady & Co. is with a strong pass rush, something that has been relatively foreign to them this season. It appeared in the New Orleans victory, but has been missing way too often. Lack of consistency has been the biggest problem.
Adding up all the ingredients for this one, only one conclusion can be reached. Factoring in the possibilities, mixing in a few probabilities and throwing in some any-given-Sunday improbabilities, it's still difficult to deduce anything less than a New England victory. Big. Make it:
Patriots 38, Browns 20