KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: FOX, Chris Rose, Torry Holt
PREDICTION: Browns 23-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: The quarterback carousel might spin yet again for both teams. Cleveland is expected to go back to Jake Delhomme against his former team with rookie Colt McCoy the third Browns quarterback to suffer a high ankle sprain this season. The Panthers started journeyman Brian St. Pierre (shoulder) last week; they hope rookie Jimmy Clausen (concussion) gets back on the field. The Browns are stout on defense and put the game in the hands of RB Peyton Hillis, the team's leading rusher and receiver. The Panthers' defense has worn down with a lack of support. Carolina's ground game has improved enough with Mike Goodson's consecutive 100-yard games that Jonathan Stewart (concussion) likely returns in a reserve role.
FAST FACTS: Goodson has averaged 110 rushing yards in his two starts. ... Hillis is tied for third in the NFL with 10 touchdowns.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns CB Joe Haden vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith. Eric Wright is sidelined with a knee injury, which means rookie Haden will likely start and probably be matched against Smith. Smith might not be as fast as he once was, but he is crafty, so Haden will have to be on guard to make sure he isn't sucked into making a mistake.
Browns RB Peyton Hillis vs. Panthers LB Jon Beason. Beason is not a stationary linebacker. He makes tackles all over the field and will make it difficult to run inside. The challenge for Hillis will be to be more successful running outside than he was last week.
GAME PLAN: Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was criticized last week for calling running plays even when the Jaguars continually stoned Peyton Hillis, but the Browns will go back to Hillis Sunday when they play Carolina.
Jake Delhomme is getting the bulk of practice time with the first-team offense but admits there could be a rust factor because it is the first time he has been with the starters since the opener; he did not even practice until last week because he was mending from a sprained ankle for four weeks.
Left tackle Joe Thomas said the blocking errors that occurred last week have been corrected. He expects the Panthers to run blitz to slow Hillis.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He needs to continue to work on getting open and I expect him to do that." -- Coach Eric Mangini on why WR Brian Robiskie has only nine catches this season.
The Browns' special teams unit took another hit when Blake Costanzo was placed on injured reserve with a torn groin. Costanzo was injured on punt coverage in Jacksonville. He tried unsuccessfully to work out the injury by walking on the sideline.
Costanzo is a key member of the punt return and kick return units as well as both cover teams. Josh Cribbs has struggled on kick returns this season, and without Costanzo, his job will be even tougher.
To fill Costanzo's spot, the Browns signed Eric Alexander, who played predominantly special teams for New England from 2004-09. He played with Jacksonville for four games this season.
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen (concussion) practiced for a second straight day Thursday, but coach John Fox remained non-committal about his status for Sunday.
That said, as long as Clausen doesn't have any setbacks he will start against Cleveland.
When asked if he knows for sure if Clausen will play or not, Fox said, "I can't say yet without speculating."
Fox doesn't know if Clausen has any more tests to clear before getting the OK to play Sunday.
If Clausen can't go, the Panthers aren't sure what they will do.
Brian St. Pierre remains limited in practice with a shoulder injury and said Wednesday he probably won't play this week, which means Fox would have to choose from between Tony Pike and newcomer Keith Null, who is on the practice squad. Pike looks like the better alternative there.
Injuries have caused a disruption on the Browns offensive line, and as a consequence they had difficulty running the football in Jacksonville last week. They are trying to resolve the situation before playing the Panthers at home on Sunday.
A key to making that happen would be the return of versatile Floyd Womack. Womack started the season at right guard and switched to tackle when injuries knocked John St. Clair and Steve Pashos out of the lineup. A knee injury kept him on the sideline last week.
St. Clair returned to face the Jaguars, but without Womack the Browns were forced to use rookie Shawn Lauvao at guard. In other circumstances Lauvao would have been on the sideline, but prior to playing in Jacksonville the Browns placed Billy Yates on injured reserve with a torn biceps.
Coach Eric Mangini said Womack, St. Clair and Lauvao are fighting for two starting jobs Sunday. A likely pairing is Womack at guard and St. Clair at tackle; Mangini was unusually candid when asked to assess Lauvao's first NFL start last week.
"I think he needs to play better than he did," Mangini said. "He needs to play better and for a young guy getting that opportunity, there were some things that were difficult to handle. With Shawn, he's a smart guy and I think he will play better.
"He's got good work ethic, he's got all of the things we're looking for and he's getting more and more experience as we go, but you want to see him improve from what we had last week."
Opponents seem to have figured out even if they take Peyton Hillis out of the game by stuffing the box with a safety, the Browns will have trouble maintaining a consistent passing attack.
Atlanta held Hillis to 2.8 yards a carry on 10 tries. The Browns scored a season-tying low of 10 points in a 20-10 loss to the Falcons. They also scored 10 points in a 28-10 loss to Pittsburgh when the Steelers held Hillis to 41 yards on 12 carries. Overall the Browns gained 70 yards on 22 carries -- a meager 3.2 average -- in Pittsburgh.
The Browns should be able to break out offensively Sunday. The Panthers, 1-9, have allowed 252 points. Only six teams in the league have allowed more. But since one of those teams is Jacksonville (270 points allowed), there are no guarantees.
By contrast the Browns have allowed 206 points. Only nine teams have allowed fewer. Unfortunately for the Browns two of them -- the Ravens and Steelers -- also play in the AFC North. The Browns host the Ravens a day after Christmas and host the Steelers in the final game of the regular season a week later.
--QB Jimmy Clausen (concussion) practiced Thursday for the second straight day.
--QB Brian St. Pierre (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis Thursday.
--QB Tony Pike (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis Thursday.
--RB Tyrell Sutton (ankle) did not practice Thursday and looks to be a scratch again this week. He has missed the last two games.
--RB Mike Goodson will likely start Sunday against the Browns after back-to-back 100-yard games.
--G Travelle Wharton (toe) did not practice on Thursday and is probably out this week.
--CB Captain Munnerlyn (shoulder), the team's nickel back, did not practice Thursday and he's questionable for this week. Don't rule him out quite yet.
--DB Marcus Hudson (ankle) did not practice due to a high ankle sprain and is not expected to play against Cleveland. He's one of the team's better special teams players.
--S Jordan Pugh (hamstring) did not practice and may miss his first game.
--CB Chris Gamble was back after missing Wednesday's practice for personal reasons.
--LB Scott Fujita did not practice Thursday. He is wearing a restrictive brace on his left knee. He said "It would take a miracle" to play Sunday.
--CB Eric Wright remains sidelined with a sprained left knee.
--A sprained ankle kept rookie QB Colt McCoy out of practice a second straight day. Jake Delhomme is continuing to get the majority of reps with the first team.
--With Eric Wright unlikely to play, rookie Joe Haden is practicing to make his first NFL start, replacing Wright at left cornerback.
--NT Ahtyba Rubin is preparing to make his 11th start this season. For most of the first two years of his career, Rubin was the backup to Shaun Rogers. Now Rogers comes off the bench and Rubin is second on the team in tackles.