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5 New England Patriots Who Must Step Up Against Cleveland Browns

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5 New England Patriots Who Must Step Up Against Cleveland Browns

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots continue their solemn march towards the playoffs this week against the Cleveland Browns. And despite the fact that the Browns are not in the playoff hunt, they aren’t an easy win. The Patriots need to avoid a letdown against them -- and all of their other opponents -- down the stretch.

New England came out flat last week against the Houston Texans. That was understandable considering the two emotional games they were coming off of, and it was eventually inconsequential after they turned it on in the second half and earned a hard-fought road win. But that won’t work against a better team, and the Browns are a better team.

The Browns' offense has been clicking of late due entirely to the emergence of Josh Gordon as a game-changing, big-play receiver. Gordon has been on a tear of late, racking up over 200 yards receiving in two straight games, and doesn’t seem ready to slow down anytime soon. The Patriots defense will need to bring him back down to earth if they want to escape with a win.

The offense isn’t without its own problems, either. The Patriots still haven’t found any reliable receivers from week to week, and the running game needs work. Things are going well in the win column, but as any Patriots fan knows the measuring stick isn’t regular season wins it's setting themselves up for playoff success.

These are the five New England Patriots who must step up against the Cleveland Browns this week.

Ben Sullivan is an NFL writer for Follow him on Twitter @bensullivan52, "Like" him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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5. Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Gronkowski is finally back from his seemingly never-ending injuries. His return comes just in time to be healthy and productive in the playoffs, and the New England offense is at its best when Gronk is wreaking havoc over the middle of the field.

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4. Nate Solder

Nate Solder
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The New England offense begins and ends with quarterback Tom Brady, and Nate Solder is the man who keeps him upright and throwing. Solder has come into his own this year, becoming the rock that the Patriots need protecting Brady's blindside.

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3. Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

All good defenses start with a good pass rush, and Chandler Jones is the best pass rusher on the Patriots. Jones already has 10.5 sacks on the year and is on his way towards becoming one of the most dominant edge pass rushers in the league.

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2. Shane Vereen

Shane Vereen
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

With Stevan Ridley firmly in the doghouse, the Patriots need Shane Vereen to step up in the backfield. Already dangerous in the passing game, Vereen needs to show that he can be just as dominant in the running game.

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1. The Entire Secondary

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, I know I cheated a little on this one, but the only reason the Patriots should lose to the Browns will be if they can't stop the suddenly-dominant Josh Gordon. That job will belong to the entire New England secondary, not just one guy.