The Browns come into the tilt on a two-game winning streak that keeps their meager playoff hopes alive. The Bengals, on the other hand, are firmly in the playoff hunt as they have won their past four games.
None of that may matter on Sunday, however, given that the Browns have won the past five games and eight of the last nine against the Bengals, a streak that defies logic.
This will be the first divisional game for quarterback Deshaun Watson and a great opportunity to start delivering a return on the $230 million in guaranteed money he is pocketing from the Browns.
Here is everything you need to know about Browns vs. Bengals in a game that Cleveland must win and one that the Bengals desperately want to win to break the Cleveland jinx.
Records: Cleveland is 5-7. Cincinnati is 8-4.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stadium: Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Adam Archuleta, AJ Ross (sidelines)
Radio: ESPN 850, 92.3 The Fan, 98.5 WNCX
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Nathan Zegura, Jerod Cherry (sidelines)
Last meeting: The Browns won the last game between the two teams, 32-13, in Week 8 of the 2022 season.
All-time series: The Texans lead the all-time series 51-47, but the Browns have won eight of the last nine meetings.
Uniform: The Browns will head into the game sporting their white jerseys and orange pants.
white on orange for the Battle of Ohio pic.twitter.com/Jc13F8nb0Z— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 9, 2022
Weather: 47 degrees and partly cloudy, with just a 2 percent chance of rain. Winds from the NNW at 5 mph. (weather.com)
Injury report: Browns – Questionable: wide receiver Amari Cooper (hip). Bengals – Out: tight end Hayden Hurst (calf).
The line: Browns +5.5 (Draft Kings)
A Few Things to Watch
Deshaun Watson Take 2: It was a debut to forget for quarterback Deshaun Watson last week against the Houston Texans.
In his first game back after not playing in a regular-season game in almost two years, Watson was just 12-of-22 for 131 yards, did not throw a touchdown pass, and oversaw an offense that finished the game just four-of-13 on third down, did not find the end zone and had just 304 yards of total offense.
Simply put, Watson needs to be better this week for the Browns to continue their recent domination of the Bengals as it is highly unlikely that Cleveland can count on a pair of defensive touchdowns and a special teams score to carry the day.
In addition to the Bengals, Watson is going up against the recent performances of quarterbacks that are of lesser talent but have managed to put up 30-plus points in four of the last five meetings with Cincinnati.
Another week of practice should help Watson, along with being able to focus on the opponent without much of the outside noise that accompanied his return last week. And while it is not all on him, Watson needs to show considerable improvement this week for the Browns to have a chance to win.
Tormenting Joey B: The Browns defense loves nothing more than facing off against Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow.
Cleveland is a perfect 4-0 against the Bengals in games that Burrow has started at quarterback, a run that includes 17 sacks and interceptions on the opening drive in each of the past three games, which has the defense feeling confident heading into this week’s game.
Myles in his last 5 games vs. Cincy— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 9, 2022
7 sacks, 13 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles pic.twitter.com/G6vTtnZT3W
There are a few reasons for Cleveland’s success against Burrow and the Bengals, most notably defensive end Myles Garrett, who has six career sacks of Burrow and plays a prominent role in the nightmares of Cincinnati’s offensive linemen.
Another is the nature of Cincinnati’s offense, which does not do much in the way of play action or moving players around prior to the snap.
Matt Patricia, this is uncalled for pic.twitter.com/Y7h7j0Hk5T— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) December 8, 2022
Limiting how much the Browns have to think on defense – especially in the secondary – appears to something that works in Cleveland’s favor as they tend to fare relatively well when they just have to line up and play one-on-one against the offense.
Speaking of turnovers: No one should expect Cleveland’s defense to put up two touchdowns the way it did against the Texans on a weekly basis, but that doesn’t mean they can’t keep working to win the turnover battle.
The Browns had two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles against the Texans, which was just the second time this season they have forced multiple turnovers in a game. The other time? That was against the Bengals in Week 8.
Keeping the turnovers coming would go a long way toward helping the Browns on Sunday as it would obviously give the offense more opportunities, but also slow down the Bengals as Burrow has tossed at least one interception in three of Cincinnati’s four losses this season.
What’s up MIKE?: Cleveland’s defense has been extremely vulnerable against the run, especially up the middle given the ongoing issues with the defensive tackles.
The situation has also been complicated by a growing list of injuries at linebacker as the Browns previously placed Jacob Phillips and Anthony Walker Jr. on injured reserve and then lost Sione Takitaki to an ACL injury suffered against the Texans.
Takitaki had been playing well and was doing his part to help slow down opposing running backs, especially the past two games as the Browns held both Tampa Bay and Houston to less than 100 rushing yards.
With options running low, the Browns are going to have to turn to Deion Jones (40.9 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus), Jordan Kunaszyk (69.6 grade) or newly signed Reggie Ragland (65.3 grade) to man the middle linebacker position for the rest of the season, which is not something that is a comforting thought.
The run defense will be tested against the Bengals as Cincinnati is suddenly feeling frisky running the ball as they have averaged 140 rushing yards over their past four games.
- Cleveland running back Nick Chubb is second in the league in rushing touchdowns with 12 and second in rushing yards with 1,119.
- The Browns are averaging 156 rushing yards per game, good enough to rank fourth in the league.
- The wins the past two weeks against Houston and Tampa Bay are the first time the Browns have won consecutive games this season.
- Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson is 1-1 in his career against the Bengals, throwing for three touchdowns and posting a quarterback rating of 109.5.
- The Bengals are 13-0 in their last 13 games where they have led at the end of the first quarter.
- The Browns are 4-2 this season when holding a lead heading into the fourth quarter.
A Final Quote
Quarterback Deshaun Watson on getting his rhythm back (quote via ESPN):
“I don’t know when it’s going to come back. I don’t know if it was going to be last week, this week. My job is to just keep getting better and when it clicks, it clicks, and everyone will feel that.”
Those are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Sunday’s game against the Bengals?