Bengals vs Browns: Three Keys and a Prediction for Sunday's Matchup

Three keys and a prediction for Bengals-Browns
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CINCINNATI — The Bengals enter Sunday's matchup against the Browns hoping to bounce back after back-to-back losses. 

They blew a 21-point lead last week against the Colts. 

Cincinnati is 1-4-1 on the season. Cleveland is also trying to rebound from a Week 6 loss. They're 4-2 on the year. 

The Browns beat the Bengals 35-30 in the first matchup between these teams in Week 2.

Here are three keys to victory and a prediction for the 'Battle of Ohio.'

Uncomfortable Mayfield and Company

The Steelers finished with four sacks and eight quarterback hits last week against the Browns. They got to third-year quarterback Baker Mayfield early and often. He was never comfortable in the pocket and the Browns' turned to Case Keenum in the second half.

The Bengals' pass rush doesn't compare to what they have in Pittsburgh, but they have to find a way to make Mayfield uncomfortable. He's completing 56% of his passes and has thrown more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3) in the past two games. 

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo needs to find a way to put some heat on Mayfield. Cincinnati couldn't do that last week against Philip Rivers and he carved them up like a Thanksgiving turkey. 

William Jackson III is out with a concussion, which means Odell Beckham Jr. could have another big game like he did in the first matchup between these two teams. Look for the Bengals to double team the star receiver in hopes limiting any explosive plays.

Part of slowing down Mayfield includes stopping the run. If Kareem Hunt gets going early, then the play-action fakes and bootlegs that the Browns used in their first matchup against the Bengals will work again. 

This young linebacking unit has to play much better against the run. If they can do that and the defense can put heat on Mayfield, then they have a shot at pulling off the upset.

Big Plays

With Joe Mixon out, the Bengals are going to have to hit on some big plays. Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow connected with Tee Higgins on a 67-yard pass last week against the Colts. 

He also got in sync with A.J. Green, who had his best game of the season. If the Bengals can get Green and Higgins going, along with Tyler Boyd, then they have a great chance of scoring enough points to win the game. 

Not many teams have a trio of wide receivers capable of making big plays at any moment. If star cornerback Denzel Ward is guarding Green, then one of the other receivers has a good shot of being open.

This doesn't mean that Burrow needs to throw it 61 times like he did in Week 2. If they're able to produce a few big plays in the passing game, it would take some pressure off of the defense and open things up for Giovani Bernard on the ground.

Coaching

The Bengals have to win the coaching battle. They lost it last week against the Colts. This team isn't talented enough to overcome poor coaching. 

Whether it was the 3rd-and-1 handoff to Semaje Perine or the conservative play-calling in the second half, Zac Taylor and his staff struggled last week against Indianapolis. 

They had a 21-0 lead and couldn't finish the job. They probably won't have a three-score lead against the Browns. 

Cincinnati has the talent to compete with Cleveland. They have a better quarterback, more depth at wide receiver and a better secondary, although it's debatable with Jackson out. 

At some point this team needs to win a game against an opponent that they aren't supposed to beat. 

They're 1-11-1 in one-score games since Taylor took over as head coach. His three wins are against the Jets, Jaguars and the Freddie Kitchens-led Browns who mailed it in during their Week 17 loss to the Bengals last season. 

Taylor needs to show he can out-coach a team with more talent. The Sean McVay's and Kyle Shanahan's have shown it time and time again. Taylor was supposed to be an offensive genius like those guys. This is an opportunity for him to prove it. 

All-Time Record

The Bengals lead the series 51-43. They've won nine of the last 14 games. Home field has been a factor, as the Bengals lead 31-16 at home but trail 20-27 on the road.

Cleveland swept Cincinnati in 2018 for the first time since 2002. They're hoping to do it again on Sunday. 

Prediction: This is as close to a "must-win" game as there is for a team that wasn't expected to contend. Taylor, the players and the entire organization desperately need a win. 

They're going to compete with the Browns, who should come out with something to prove after their blowout loss to the Steelers in Week 6. 

Cincinnati will be shorthanded, but they're getting defensive tackle Mike Daniels back. The veteran missed three games with an elbow injury. Daniels and Geno Atkins have to not only slow down the Browns' rushing attack, but also find a way to put pressure on Mayfield. 

Burrow is good enough to keep it interesting, but Cleveland has too much talent. 

The Browns sweep the Bengals for the second time in three seasons. 

Final Score: Browns 27, Bengals 23

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