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How the Bears and Browns match up

ClevelBrowns wide receiver Josh Gord(12) catches pass against Chicago Bears during first half preseasNFL football game Thursday Aug. 29 2013

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) catches a pass against the Chicago Bears during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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STAFF PREDICTIONS

RICK MORRISSEY: Bears, 31-21

Season: 7-6

RICK TELANDER: Bears, 28-26

Season: 7-6

DAN McGRATH: Bears, 26-24

Season: 7-6

HUB ARKUSH: Bears, 30-24

Season: 9-4

ADAM L. JAHNS: Bears, 27-17

Season: 8-5

MARK POTASH: Bears, 27-17

Season: 6-7

PATRICK FINLEY: Bears, 28-27

Season: 6-7

WEEK 15

BEARS AT BROWNS

Time: Noon Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium,

Line: Bears by 1.

Total: 43 1/2.

TV: Fox-32 (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick).

Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

Matt Forte (234 carries, 1,073 yards, seven TDs) is fourth in the NFL in rushing and is coming off his second consecutive 100-yard game (20-102 vs. the Cowboys). He has averaged 4.6 yards or more per carry in six of his last seven games. But establishing a running game might be problematic against a Browns defense that is fourth in rushing yards allowed (98 ypg) and second in yards per carry (3.5). The Browns have yet to allow a running back more than 88 yards in a game. Bears will be facing a 3-4 defense for the sixth time this season. They have averaged 5.2, 6.4, 5.2 and 4.0 ypc against the last four.

IN THE AIR

All eyes will be on Jay Cutler as he replaces red-hot Josh McCown after missing the last four games with a high ankle sprain. He has a tough act to follow. McCown threw for 352, 355 and 348 yards with eight TDs and one INT in his last three starts. But Cutler joins an offense that is in high gear, and the Bears expect him to pick up where he left off. He had passer ratings of 128.1 and 106.5 (four TDs, no INTs) in his last two complete games. The Browns are tied for eighth in the NFL in pass defense (222.4 ypg), but they’ve allowed an average of 26 points to opposing offenses in their last four games.

KEY PLAYERS

Browns CB Joe Haden is a physical defender who will make life tough for Brandon Marshall and/or Alshon Jeffery. He leads the Browns with four interceptions and has broken up 18 passes. But he only can guard Marshall or Jeffery on any play, so it’ll be up to the other to take advantage. Marshall has had seven 100-yard games, including four of his last six.

WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

A classic case of the repressible force against the movable object. The Bears are ranked 32nd in the NFL in run defense and have allowed an average of 205 yards in their last seven games. The Browns, though, rank 28th in rushing and will be without leading rusher Willis McGahee (concussion). That leaves Chris Ogbonnaya (42 carries, 224 yards, zero TDs) and Fozzy Whittaker (28, 79, zero) to face the Bears’ porous run defense. The Bears have allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of their last six games and in nine overall. The Browns haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since Trent Richardson in Week 9 last season.

IN THE AIR

Despite using three starting quarterbacks this season, the Browns rank 10th in the NFL in passing yards (260 ypg). Former Bears backup Jason Campbell will start in place of Brandon Weeden. Campbell has an 88.0 passer rating (nine TDs, three INTs). Josh Gordon (71 catches, 1,400 yards, eight TDs in 11 games) has an NFL-record 774 receiving yards in his last four games. Jordan Cameron has emerged as one of the best tight ends in the NFL (72, 825, seven). Considering the success TEs Jimmy Graham (10-135) and Jordan Reed (9-134) had against the Bears, Cameron might be a bigger threat than Gordon.

KEY PLAYERS

Josh Gordon has six plays of 47 or more yards this season, including touchdowns of 95, 80 and 74 yards. The Bears are the only team in the NFL that has yet to allow a pass play of longer than 45 yards. With Charles Tillman injured, Tim Jennings figures to cover Gordon. Jennings quietly has had another quality season, but he might be on the spot against Gordon.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bears have been making progress under Joe DeCamillis, with veterans Blake Costanzo (15 tackles), Sherrick McManis (12), Craig Steltz (10) and Eric Weems (nine) leading the way. The Bears have improved from 30th to 17th in punt coverage since their bye week and from 30th to fifth in kickoff coverage since Week 5. Devin Hester has one punt return longer than 23 yards this season but is always a threat. The Browns’ return game lost its punch when Travis Benjamin (79-yard punt return for TD, 86-yard kickoff return) suffered a knee injury. Fozzy Whittaker had a 56-yard punt return against the Packers.

X-FACTOR

Bears coach Marc Trestman is expecting Jay Cutler to pick up where he left off before he was injured, but that might be an iffy proposition. Cutler was excellent in his last two complete games — ratings of 128.1 against the Saints and 106.5 against the Giants — but he struggled against the Redskins on Oct. 20 before he suffered a groin injury, then faded after a fast start against the Lions on Nov. 10 before suffering a high ankle sprain. With the Bears’ offense operating at a high level, it figures that Cutler will find a groove. But whether that happens right away is a key question.Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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