SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Browns lead the all-time series 12-10. Bill Belichick has seen both sides of this series, first leading the Browns to a 4-2 mark against the Patriots, including a Cleveland playoff win over Bill Parcells' New England squad after the 1994 season. Belichick has a 5-2 mark for the Patriots against his former squad, with both losses coming in trips to the Dawg Pound. The Browns 34-14 win in 2010 under Eric Mangini was a huge upset, and Cleveland came up just short of a surprise victory in the Patriots 27-26 win in Foxborough in the most recent meeting in 2013.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The focus of NFL followers will be on Patriots QB Tom Brady in his return from four-game banishment over the over-inflated, deflate-gate debacle. There are murmurs that Brady will take out his frustrations on opponents. Really? Ya mean he will play better as a 38-year old who sat out a quarter of the season? Truth is, the Pats should be able to beat the Browns regardless of who is at quarterback.
That said, coach Hue Jackson has the Browns playing competitive football and this game is as big on the radar on an entire roster of players seeking validation as it is for Brady coming back.
The Browns can't come up with coverage disguises Brady hasn't seen, so they must win the line of scrimmage to pull an upset. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will keep a rotation going to keep his line fresh.
The Browns' pass protection improved over the last two weeks. That might allow rookie QB Cody Kessler to throw deep -- something he did not do against the Redskins.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Browns NT Danny Shelton vs. Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount. Big, bad Blount trails only the Browns' Isaiah Crowell among AFC rushers. Shelton can play a significant role in keeping his teammate on top even if he doesn't pile up tackles. Shelton will have a successful day if he clears blockers so the linebackers can make the tackles.
--Browns WR Terrelle Pryor vs. Patriots CB Malcolm Butler. Improbable highlight matchup of one-time starting NFL quarterback vs. former undrafted free agent who starred as rookie in Super Bowl. Pryor earned the respect of teams around the league in just his first full year as a wide receiver. This time he must beat Butler with his speed down the right side. Pryor at 6-foot-4 has a five-inch height advantage, but Butler, in his fifth season, has experience on his side. Butler has 19 passes defensed since 2015, most on team.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Browns CB Jamar Taylor -- He intercepted a pass in each of the last two games and can expect Brady to test him early. Taylor was a 2013 second-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins who was acquired by the Browns during the 2016 draft. That means Brady prepared for him six times over the last three seasons.
FAST FACTS: Pats QB Brady is 5-1 in career starts vs. Browns; he passed for 418 yards in the most recent meeting. ... Pats RB LeGarrette Blount won AFC Offensive Player of Month for September. He ranks third in the NFL with 352 rush yards, and he is tied for third with four rushing TDs. ... Browns RB Isiah Crowell ranks second in the NFL with 386 rushing yards. He ran for 331 yards (110.3 per game) and three TDs in his past three at home.
PREDICTION: It would make the Browns' season to get an upset while the nation is watching the return of Tom Brady. That would make a great story after the game, but there is no realistic reason to predict that before they play.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 35-21.