NFL Wire News

Week 16 Preview: Browns at Panthers

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Cleveland Browns (7-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-8-1)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta

*Keys to the game: Balance might be a pipedream for the Browns, who average 3.6 yards per carry. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan understands the struggles of his line and rookie running backs, but not pushing the ball to Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell all but seals rookie QB Johnny Manziel’s fate on the road. He’ll use Manziel as a ballcarrier out of the Pistol formation, which is new to Manziel, and ideally keep his pass attempts under 25.

The Panthers are sharpening their teeth to get after Manziel, but also the Browns run defense. Cleveland is being scorched for 137.6 yards per game on the ground, including 244 yards last week to the Bengals. With QB Cam Newton (back) moving gingerly, the Panthers can turn to plowhorse FB Mike Tolbert and RB Jonathan Stewart.

*Matchup to watch – Browns WR Josh Gordon vs. Panthers CB Josh Norman: Gordon hasn’t scored yet this season while Norman kept Buccaneers rookie Mike Evans to two receptions last week. Norman was furious after he gave up an eight-yard touchdown to Evans in the first quarter, but he contained the rookie the rest of the way.

*Player spotlight – Browns CB Buster Skrine: Skrine has the speed to stay with Panthers rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin, who has 67 catches for 952 yards and nine touchdowns. Skrine, who has shown improvement this season, would love to make sure Benjamin doesn’t reach 1,000 yards on his watch and might get the chance with Joe Haden (shoulder) iffy.

*Fast facts: Newton needs 188 yards for his fourth consecutive 3,000-yard passing season. … The Browns have converted only 30.2 percent of third-down attempts this season.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Holes at cornerback and a sputtering rushing attack put Manziel in the crosshairs, more than the rookie can overcome on the road as the Panthers grind out a close one and inch closer to the playoffs.

*Our pick: Panthers 23-15


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