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Browns vs Bengals: 3 key things to watch in Week 18’s AFC North matchup

A meaningless game can still be interesting

Cleveland Browns Practice Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Week 18. Regular season finale. The Cleveland Browns have already clinched their postseason berth but they still have a game to play against the Cincinnati Bengals.

These two teams started the regular season against each other, now they will finish the regular season against each other.

Cincinnati has already been eliminated from playoff contention so this is their last game of the 2023 season, while Cleveland will prepare for the potential AFC South winner.

Cleveland is back on CBS this week for their 1:00 PM kickoff. Tom McCarthy, James Lofton and Jay Feely will be on the call.

Browns backups with their chance to shine

Last season at this point, the Browns were preparing for the offseason and multiple starters were still playing. Not the case this season. Considering how Cleveland will be playing a playoff game the following week, it doesn’t make much sense to play most of your offensive and defensive starters.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski has already announced quarterback Joe Flacco will not be starting and newly acquired quarterback Jeff Driskel will start on Sunday. Driskel, who was recently signed to the practice squad this week has been around the NFL for a while so it’s not his first time playing in an NFL game.

As far as who will be playing in terms of the backups, it will be a combination of rookies and the two practice squad players who will get called up.

Offensively, we all know about the quarterback situation but we will potentially see preseason standout wide receiver Austin Watkins get some key reps or WR Jaelon Darden. On the offensive line, could we see offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood make his debut? Same goes for Rodger Saffold who was signed to the practice squad.

Only two of the above practice squad players could be elevated for the game but kicker Riley Patterson will likely get one of those two spots.

Defensively, rookies Siaka Ika and Isaiah McGuire could also get extended reps. Essentially, this game will be treated as a preseason game.

How will the players approach this game despite it not meaning much

From a fan perspective, we ask ourselves “how will the players approach this game considering that they have nothing to play for?” If I had to guess, it would probably be the same approach as every regular season game.

At the end of the day, Cleveland has an opportunity to sweep Cincinnati making it the third time in Kevin Stefanski’s tenure that the Browns have done it.

With multiple veterans potentially playing a few series and being done afterward, it would give the younger players who haven’t got a chance to play this season a chance to shine. Cleveland would go into the postseason with a little extra momentum (the team has it already, it wouldn’t hurt for more) if they were to get a win and have a divisional foe finish winless in division play.

Expect full effort from both teams this Sunday.

What to expect from quarterback Jeff Driskel

If you are expecting a world-class performance from journeyman quarterback Jeff Driskel, then you need to lower your expectations (although this season backups have had one or two good games throughout the league).

When I say lower your expectations, you shouldn’t necessarily have any. Driskel, the 6th round pick out of Louisiana Tech from the 2016 NFL Draft bounced around the NFL his first start being with the San Francisco 49ers. With stops with the Bengals, Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans (he converted to a tight end at one point), and eventually sticking with the Arizona Cardinals before the Cleveland Browns signed him off their practice squad, Driskel hasn’t shown enough at quarterback to deserve expectations.

From watching his highlights (yes I looked up Jeff Driskel highlights on YouTube) he has a good arm, good mobility and has shown the ability to lay some throws in some tight windows. However, I don’t believe that he is a starter and maybe not even a primary backup in this league. He will be surrounded by some quality pieces in the offense but don’t get your hopes up for how he will look.

Besides injuries, what are some things you care about in the season finale this week?