Sunday storylines: So Johnny Manziel's the starter for the Cleveland Browns -- now what?
Every week, our FOX Sports NFL Insiders break down three of the most important storylines you need to watch heading into Sunday. If you have any questions, be sure to hit them up on Twitter.
Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo)
Broncos at Chargers: The last time the Chargers faced the Broncos, they were 5-2, Philip Rivers was an MVP candidate and one had to wonder whether they'd push Denver for the top spot in the AFC West.
But San Diego has gone 3-3 since then, as a tough schedule and injuries have taken their toll. It doesn't get much easier the rest of the way, either, as Sunday's date with Denver is followed by two road games to end the season - at San Francisco to face the reeling but dangerous 49ers and then to Kansas City to meet the Chiefs. It's going to take a 2-1 finish, and possibly a 3-0 run, for the Chargers to make the postseason again.
That is why this matchup with the Broncos is a must-win game. It is a tall order, but remember that the Chargers are the team with the formula to give the Broncos their toughest test. The past handful of times they faced Denver, the Chargers tried to slow the game down to keep Peyton Manning on the sideline and break his rhythm. It worked best last December when San Diego went into Denver to stun the eventual AFC champs.
But the key to doing that is running the ball, which the Chargers have been unable to do of late. In their last seven games, the Chargers have rushed for more than 100 yards as a team only twice. The multiple injuries they have suffered at center have severely hampered their running game. Mike McCoy is a very good offensive mind, so he realizes this. Watch out for whether McCoy and the Chargers will try to break form and perhaps open up the offense to try keeping up with the Broncos instead of slowing them down. It could lead to an extremely explosive offensive game overall.
Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez)
Cowboys at Eagles: The Seattle Seahawks didn't just clobber the Eagles during last Sunday's 24-14 tumbling at Lincoln Financial Field. The Seahawks also showed no brotherly love on the way out of town. Among the trash talk was defensive end Michael Bennett telling USA Today that Mark Sanchez was "trying to impersonate a good quarterback" and cornerback Richard Sherman knocking Philadelphia's wide receiving corps by saying how much the Eagles missed DeSean Jackson. Such salvos would add plenty of spice to a playoff rematch.
But first things first: The Eagles need to reach the postseason. That gets a lot harder if Philadelphia (9-4) can't register a season-sweep of the Cowboys (9-4) to take control of the NFC East. The Cowboys don't have the same defensive personnel to match Philadelphia's high-tempo attack like the Seahawks. But the Eagles shouldn't expect another cakewalk like during their 33-10 rout in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. Coming off last Thursday night's win against Chicago, the Cowboys had far more time to prepare in practice for Philadelphia's offensive pace. Quarterback Tony Romo also should be much sharper than three weeks ago with more downtime to rest his ailing back.
Peter Schrager (@PSchrags)
Bengals at Browns: Well, the toothpaste is officially out of the tube. And once it's out, it can't go back in. The Johnny Football Era has begun in Cleveland and Brian Hoyer's run as the starter has come to an end. Why now? Well, the Browns coaches really had no other choice after Hoyer's performance the past few weeks. The film doesn't lie and Hoyer just wasn't getting the job done. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Manziel -- whether he's ready or not -- is being called in to save the day.
What should we expect from the rookie on Sunday? I'd imagine a very different offensive game plan than the one built for Hoyer in recent weeks. Look for Manziel to do a lot of what offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was doing with him in the preseason -- rollouts, waggles, out of the pocket passing routes. At the very least, Cincinnati -- coming off a horrendous loss at home to the Steelers -- will not know exactly what's coming. There's no book on Manziel. There's no film. Only Shanahan knows how deep or how restricted the playbook can be on Sunday, but I'd expect a few big bang plays.
The crowd will be riled up, the team will be lifted, and Johnny will be ready. At the very least, it'll be exciting. And it won't be Hoyer.