NFL: Preview of Buffal Bills v Cleveland Browns live on Sky Sports
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 03/10/13 11:47pm
Brian Hoyer has been in fairytale form
The surprising Cleveland Browns can strike the top of the AFC North if quarterback Brian Hoyer can lead them to a third win in three games against visiting Buffalo on Thursday night.
Hoyer can become the first Browns quarterback to win his first three starts for the team if he can continue his surprising rise to fame after replacing the ineffective and injured Brand Weedon under centre.
If Cleveland's 0-2 start was no surprise, their trading of first-round running back Trent Richardson to the Colts certainly was, but just as it looked like another doomed season they pulled out two huge victories.
Cleveland native Hoyer took the reins and showed what could be done, throwing a last-minute touchdown to beat the Vikings in Minnesota before throwing two TDs and no interceptions on Sunday to beat highly-rated divisional rivals Cincinnati.
If Hoyer can continue his dream form, as he will start Thursday even though Weedon is fit again, the Browns will move to 3-2 and top the division, albeit only temporarily, and there will finally be some cause for optimism amongst their long-suffering fans.
"The alternative is bad when you're 0-4 or 1-3 and fighting to try to get into the race," Browns tackle Joe Thomas said. "Sitting at 2-2, it's not where we wanted to be. But after an 0-2 start, it's as good as we could have done. Sitting there with a lot of games to go, but still fighting in the division. You can't ask for any more.
"Brian's done a nice job for us coming in, providing that spark. He had two nice games already making the right throws, getting the ball out on time, just making sure everybody's on the same page."
Cleveland's success has, though, been on the back of their third-ranked defence, which kept the Bengals out of the end zone last week and will hope to do the same to the Bills, on a short week and with both their running backs nursing injuries.
CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson are both expected to play as Buffalo look to continue with their second-ranked running game, but Cleveland boast the best rush defence in the league with only 2.9 yards per carry being allowed this season.
That may switch the emphasis to rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who has performed well so far but has his star receiver Stevie Johnson struggling with a hamstring problem.
The Bills may also be without injured starters Jairus Byrd and Leodis McKelvin again in their secondary, but they still managed to pick off Joe Flacco five times last week as will be looking to put up similar numbers on Hoyer.
Cleveland's own passing attack has been surprisingly effective, especially with Hoyer, and tight end Jordan Cameron who has 30 catches and five touchdowns already, while Josh Gordon has returned from his two-game suspension and is growing into the team.
Buffalo beat Super Bowl champions Baltimore last week, so will be in good spirits despite being on the road on a short week, although a win and move to 3-2 for them would still leave them trailing in unbeaten New England's wake.