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Browns vs. Bengals: Scouting Cincinnati’s Jake Browning and Week 18 approach in our Q&A with Cincy Jungle

We ask about Bengals’ QB Jake Browning, who Cincinnati may rest, and more.

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals. To help preview a few topics from the Bengals’ perspective, we reached out to Anthony Cosenza from Cincy Jungle and exchanged five questions with him.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 7-point underdogs against the Bengals.

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Chris: “What are your thoughts on how Jake Browning has performed filling in for Joe Burrow?”

Anthony: “Overall, I’d say Jake Browning has far exceeded expectations over the course of 6.5 games. Cincinnati ultimately getting three wins against as many playoff-caliber teams (Jaguars, Colts, Vikings), and having two one-possession losses against two others (Steelers, Chiefs), being in the hunt until the very final week of the year without Joe Burrow was one of the better outcomes of the tough situation.

While Browning has been in the league since 2019, people forget that these six starts and seven games overall were his first samples of real NFL action from the backup quarterback. And, this spring, Cincinnati brought in veteran Trevor Siemian to compete for the backup quarterback spot, with many feeling like he was the favorite for it over Browning.

The only previous snaps he had taken had been with other backups and/or guys not on NFL rosters in preseason work, so seeing him put up 12 total touchdowns (nine passing, three rushing) against six interceptions was impressive. And, while he’s had a lot more star power on offense than other backups, time missed by both Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase in his stretch further complicated things.

At a minimum, as a pending Exclusive Rights Free Agent, Browning has earned himself a nice payday and a cemented spot behind Joe Burrow, who has had injury problems in his own short career. If a team comes calling, it could become a possible sign-and-trade situation, depending on the offer.”

Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images

Chris: “Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they are eliminated from playoff contention heading into the final week. Do you expect them to play everyone who is available, or might we see some players rested?”

Anthony: “That’s a tough question. Earlier this week, Zac Taylor planted a seed in the media about Chase and Higgins both battling ailments (which has truly been the case the past couple of weeks), but it may be a precursor to them sitting, so as to not risk anything long-term. Cincinnati suffered a couple of big, long-recovery injuries a few weeks ago against Minnesota, so this may indeed be an audition week for youngsters and backups.

Look for rookie wideouts Andrei Iosivas and Charlie Jones to be featured a lot on offense, along with Chase Brown and Trayveon Williams as running backs. There will also probably be a slew of different faces on the defensive line, with the Bengals trying to find rotational rushers for the future and Trey Hendrickson being a Pro Bowler and being on the roster next year.”

Indianapolis Colts v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Chris: “A lot of time has passed since Week 1 when these teams last met, so tell us about an unexpected player who has done well throughout the season.”

Anthony: “The emergence of Tanner Hudson at tight end has been a nice surprise on the offense. He flashed in the preseason with his big frame (6’5”, 240 pounds) and big catch radius and translated into the regular season. Like Browning, Hudson was a guy who bounced around to a bunch of different teams with very little regular-season playing time, but has found a nice niche this year.

On a roster with Chase (who just made his third Pro Bowl), Higgins and other weapons, Hudson put up a respectable, career-high 37 catches this year. He isn’t a game-breaker, but if the Bengals bring in a bonafide starter next year, Hudson has a bright future as a very solid No. 2 tight end and red zone weapon with the Bengals.”

Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images

Chris: “Who is the biggest name on this Bengals roster that the organization will have to make a decision on during the offseason?”

Anthony: “I’ll give you two—one on each side of the ball. On offense, it’s Higgins. He’s a great player, has an amazing personality and is integral in the locker room and would be a No. 1 on many NFL teams. However, he has had minor injury issues in his career (seven games missed in four seasons—four this year) and his representation is known for hardball negotiations (David Mulughetta) with clubs.

After failing to come to an agreement this offseason, the likeliest scenario seems to be the franchise tag, with the decision of “getting the gang back together one more time” or trading him being a decision from there. If things really get sour, he could just walk, but the Bengals are also looking at Tyler Boyd hitting free agency, which would really thin out the wide receiver group.

On defense, it’s run-stopping star, D.J. Reader. He’s quietly been one of the better players in the NFL and has been critical in Lou Anarumo’s defensive unit. He suffered a torn quadriceps tendon against the Vikings three weeks ago, and that’s a long rehab process there. He’s also going to be 30 years old this summer, so things will have to make a lot of sense for him to come back to Cincinnati this offseason.”

Chris: “Betting can be tricky for these final regular season games. The Browns are underdogs against the Bengals on Sunday (Browns +7 as of this question, per DraftKings Sportsbook). Who would you pick against the spread?”

Anthony: “I have no idea what to do here, honestly. One could say that the Bengals “play for pride” and take it to Cleveland, channelling anger for how this once-promising season ended up, but we’re not totally sure who will rest and who will play for Cincinnati. We also know that the Browns have had the Bengals’ number of late, so the pendulum could swing back their way.

It sounds like Cleveland may be sitting many of their starters as they head into the postseason, so I guess I’ll go with an ugly, low-scoring Bengals win wherein they don’t cover that spread.”

Thanks again to Anthony for taking the time to answer my questions.