New York Jets (6-2) at Cleveland Browns (3-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
PREDICTION: Jets 27-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: Two teams with physical personas geared to win with tough running on offense and solid defense make for an intriguing matchup. The Brothers Ryan -- Rex is the head coach of the Jets, Rob defensive coordinator in Cleveland -- are one of the many juicy storylines. But the plot boils down to this: Can one of the young quarterbacks, Colt McCoy of the Browns or Jets' QB Mark Sanchez, win a game in the fourth quarter against a solid defense? Sanchez has far more skill talent to work with and rallied the troops at Detroit last week. The Browns won't be dared into a pass-first approach. The Jets fly to the ball and know RB Peyton Hillis is going to get it often.
FAST FACTS: The Browns have won four of the past five in the series. ... Jets RB LaDainian Tomlinson has eight rushing touchdowns and averages 129.8 yards per game against Cleveland.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns CB Eric Wright vs. Jets WR Braylon Edwards. Edwards is going to be jacked up to face his old team. Brown is going to be challenged to stay with him on go routes. Teams know Wright isn't having a great season, so when the Browns can, they will try to give Wright some help.
Browns RB Peyton Hillis vs. Jets LB Bart Scott. Hillis is a punishing runner between the tackles, but the Steelers held him to 41 yards and the Jets have an equally tough defense. The problem the Browns have is the talent at running back drops off significantly after Hillis; Mike Bell is averaging 18 inches a carry.
INJURY IMPACT: Despite all the mystery, Seneca Wallace will likely be a backup QB against the Jets. He was inactive the last three weeks. Getting DL Shaun Rogers back is essential to slowing the Jets' run offense,
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Mark Sanchez often likens himself to a point guard on the field, so maybe it's not so surprising that he was able to lead a comeback Sunday at Ford Field, which was the site of the 2009 NCAA men's basketball Final Four.
Other than a 74-yard touchdown to Braylon Edwards, Sanchez and the Jets' offense struggled for most of the first three quarters against Detroit. But when the Jets went to the no-huddle, hurry-up offense late in the fourth quarter, things finally clicked. They scored on three of four drives after going from their base offense to the hurry-up, which has an extra wide receiver in place of the fullback.
"I think their guys were probably getting tired," said Santonio Holmes, whose 52-yard catch set up the winning field goal in overtime. "We practiced two-minute against our No. 1 defense every day for every week of practice and I think it definitely pays off when you get into that situation."
"I won't let any secrets out, but we definitely feel like those are some of our best situations because of the tempo," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who has a key role in that offense as a dump-off pass option for Sanchez. "We're able to speed up our tempo and we like to do fast tempo. This offense really thrives on that. It could be something we'll do" more often.
"That's the ultimate fast-break situation," Sanchez said, "where you're playing so fast, you're just reacting to things and the defense is in their tendencies. They play sort of, not plain vanilla, but you kind of know what they're going to do (against) your personnel. ... It's been me finding completions quickly. When things break down, get it to LT quickly. Guys have made great plays. That's when our focus has been its best."
It's possible the Jets may mix in the hurry-up earlier in the game at Cleveland on Sunday to prevent the offense from falling into the doldrums.
"That would be a great changeup for us, so who knows?" Sanchez said.
It's a possibility, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer admitted.
"It's always in our hip pocket," he said. "We talk about it every week."
The Jets may want to pull out whatever wrinkles they can against a defensive set Cleveland often uses called the "amoeba" defense, in which players are shifting around until just before the snap to make the quarterback's reads more difficult.
"They have a lot of guys moving around," Holmes said. "They've done some things that I haven't seen other teams do which is take every lineman out and just put all linebackers (and) defensive backs in the game. That's something that's very different to see on the field and it can definitely screw up an offense trying to figure out what's going on."
A key player in the Browns improved defense has been safety Abe Elam, who on Sunday will go against his former team when the Browns play the Jets in Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Elam has started every game at safety. He has broken up four passes, which is twice as many as he broke up all last season.
Elam, acquired in the draft-day trade last year which allowed the Jets to draft Mark Sanchez, led the Browns with 88 tackles in 2009. He is off that pace with 29 tackles at the halfway point, but that is more a reflection on improved linebackers than a deficiency in Elam.
"I think he's made improvements in some areas," Coach Eric Mangini said. "Some of the things that you don't really appreciate with Abe and what he's doing is he's working with a rookie safety (T.J. Ward) next to him. That's not easy to do, and then you throw a rookie corner (Joe Haden) in those sub packages and the variations of the sub packages, those safeties have to make a lot of calls.
"T.J. is doing a nice job, but Abe is the veteran back there, so some of the stuff that he does is about getting guys lined up as much as it is the plays that he makes. It's challenging."
Elam made a key last week by forcing a fumble deep in Browns territory and thwarting a New England touchdown in the final seconds of the second quarter, to preserve a 17-7 halftime lead.
Elam was a key part in the trade that netted the Browns starting center Alex Mack, starting end Kenyon Coleman, backup quarterback Brett Ratliff and three draft picks plus Elam.
During free agency in 2009 the Browns tried to sign Elam to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, but Elam ended up signing his tender with the Jets. Because of that he had to agree to be dealt to the Browns, otherwise the trade would have fallen through.
"The core of that (Jets) team was put together by Coach Mangini," Elam said. "That goes to show he knows what it takes to build a good team. I think Coach Rex Ryan just took the team and is running with it. They're definitely playing well and looking good."
This is a big reunion game for more than Elam. The Jets fired Mangini after the 2008 season, and Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is the twin brother of Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
--LG Matt Slauson, who injured his right knee in the win over Detroit on Sunday, returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday. He will play at Cleveland on Sunday.
--RB Joe McKnight likely will be active for only the second time this season Sunday at Cleveland. The Jets need an extra special-teamer because DB Marquice Cole (left hamstring) sat out practice for a second straight day and it appears he won't be ready to play Sunday.
--CB Kyle Wilson, who has gotten very few defensive snaps in recent weeks, "may play more this week," coach Rex Ryan said, adding he likes the way the rookie has practiced recently.
--CB Drew Coleman's play has declined somewhat in recent weeks, and he likely will share time with CB Kyle Wilson on Sunday.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson indicated Thursday he isn't worried about the recent dropoff in his rushing numbers, saying opposing teams simply are playing tougher defense against the Jets' running game.
--LB Marcus Benard collapsed in the locker room just before the start of practice Thursday. He was taken to a hospital near the Browns training facility and kept for observation before being released Thursday night. The Browns said he would undergo further evaluation.
--DE Kenyon Coleman did not practice Thursday because of a knee injury. He was limited in practice Wednesday.
--QB Jake Delhomme practiced on a limited basis Thursday. It was his first practice in more than a month.
--DL Shaun Rogers practiced Thursday on a limited basis. He did not practice Wednesday.
--S Mike Adams returned to practice Thursday. He suffered a mild concussion last week late in the Patriots' game and did not practice Wednesday.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- The point differential for the Browns between points scored (152) and points allowed (154). A year ago after eight games the Browns had scored 78 and allowed 209.
QUOTE TO NOTE: He's very cool, calm and collected. He's playing with a lot of poise." -- Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi on Colt McCoy.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Mohamed Massaquoi is starting to emerge as a reliable target for Colt McCoy. He caught four passes against the Patriots after catching a total of nine in six games. He did not play against the Saints because he was out with a concussion.
Last week, Browns president Mike Holmgren said he wants to see more passes go to the wideouts instead of throwing in the middle of the field to tight ends and running backs. Targeting Massaquoi is a way of doing that, but it will be difficult to follow up on that plan going against cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.