Game Scout: Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) At Cleveland Browns (6-7-1)
SERIES HISTORY: 91st regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 50-40. The Browns haven't swept the season series with Cincinnati since 2002. That drought will end if they beat the Bengals in their home finale on Sunday. The Browns won in Cincinnati by scoring the first 28 points in a 35-20 win on Nov. 25. The Bengals have won their last four visits to Cleveland by a combined 121-20 margin.
KEYS TO THE GAME: It's not a coincidence that the Bengals are focusing their offense on the run game since quarterback Andy Dalton was lost for the season with a thumb injury. Their rushing attempts have steadily risen in the last three weeks with totals of 23, 32 and 41 attempts. The last two weeks are the only times the Bengals have carried 30 times and expect more of the same since quarterback Jeff Driskel is experiencing trouble throwing the deep ball and especially with wide receiver Tyler Boyd unable to play. Look for a heavy dose of Joe Mixon, who leads the AFC with 995 rushing yards after getting 129 rush yards in the previous games, a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and a win over the Oakland Raiders.
The Browns went on the attack early in the first meeting with the Bengals and scored the first 28 points. There is no reason to change that strategy in the rematch. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half in the 35-20 victory and completed passes to eight players. The same approach could produce their first series sweep since 2002 -- the final season before Marvin Lewis joined Cincinnati as head coach.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: WR Tyler Boyd (knee), LB Jordan Evans (ankle), CB Tony McRae (hamstring)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion)
--QUESTIONABLE: T Austin Corbett (foot), CB Phillip Gaines (knee), DT Larry Ogunjobi (biceps), S Jabrill Peppers (neck), C JC Tretter (ankle), LB Tanner Vallejo (hamstring)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Browns FS Damarious Randall vs. Bengals QB Jeff Driskel. Driskel replaced injured Andy Dalton in the second half of the first game between the Browns and Bengals. He completed 17 of 29 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown using quick throws. The Browns will know what to expect this time. Randall can disrupt Driskel's approach by moving before the snap to confuse the third-year quarterback.
--Bengals OL vs. Browns DE Myles Garrett. Garrett constantly generates pressure and has been credited with a pressure in every game except Week 10. He had a significantly productive day in the last meeting with the Bengals, but LT Cordy Glenn did not play due to a back injury. Glenn returned last week and fared nicely, especially in pass protection. In 41 pass-block snaps against Oakland, he allowed a single pressure, marking the fourth time he did so. Before missing three games, Glenn endured rough outings against Baltimore and New Orleans, allowing a combined nine pressures and two sacks.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Browns RB Nick Chubb should be a focal point of the Bengals defense after what he did in Cincinnati last month. He rushed for 84 yards and scored on a 1-yard run. He caught three passes for 44 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown catch. The Bengals know what's coming, but that won't stop quarterback Baker Mayfield from getting the ball to Chubb. He needs 91 yards in the last two games to break the Browns' rookie rushing record of 950 yards set by Trent Richardson in 2012.
FAST FACTS: BENGALS QB JEFF DRISKEL had TDs (1 pass, 1 rush) & 84.7 rating in Week 12 meeting. Aims for his 5th in row with TD pass. ... RB JOE MIXON had 129 rush yards & 2 rush TDs last week, his 2nd career game with 2+ rush TDs. Had 155 scrimmage yards (89 rush, 66 rec.) & career-high 7 receptions in Week 12 meeting. ... WR JOHN ROSS had TD catch in last meeting. ... DT GENO ATKINS had career-high 3 sacks & 4 TFL last week. Has 4.5 sacks & 4 TFL in his past 5 at Cle. ... DE CARLOS DUNLAP has 3.5 sacks, FF & PD in his past 5 at Cle. ... Rookie DE SAM HUBBARD had 2 sacks & FF last week, his 1st-career multi-sack game. ... CB DARQUEZE DENNARD had 1st-career FF & 1st-career FR last week. ... BROWNS QB BAKER MAYFIELD (rookie) completed 19 of 26 (73.1 pct.) for 258 yards & 4 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 143.9 rating in Week 12 meeting. Aims for his 3rd in row at home with 125+ rating. Is 5th No. 1 overall pick in common draft era to pass for 3,000+ yards (3,065) & 20+ TDs (21) in his rookie season. ... RB NICK CHUBB (rookie) had 100 rush yards last week. Had 128 scrimmage yards (84 rush, 44 rec.) & 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) in only career meeting. Is 1 of 3 rookies (SAQUON BARKLEY & PHILLIP LINDSAY) with 1,000+ scrimmage yards (1,010) & 10+ TDs (10) in 2018. ... RB DUKE JOHNSON JR. is 1 of 2 RBs (JAMES WHITE) with 200+ catches (228) & 2,000+ rec. yards (2,113) since 2015. ... WR JARVIS LANDRY is 1 of 4 WRs with 70+ receptions (72) in each of past 5 seasons. ... Rookie WR ANTONIO CALLAWAY had TD catch last week. Had rec. TD in only career game vs. Cin. ... WR BRESHAD PERRIMAN had TD catch last week, his first TD with Cle. ... DE MYLES GARRETT had sack in Week 12 meeting. Aims for 3rd in row vs. Cin. with sack. ... CB DAMARIOUS RANDALL had INT in last meeting. ... S JABRILL PEPPERS had INT & sack last week, his 1st-career sack.
PREDICTION: Too much is on the line for the Browns to stumble against an opponent playing out the string. While the Bengals may have motivation to get special assistant Hue Jackson a win in his return to Cleveland, motivation does not necessarily translate to wins.
OUR PICK: Browns, 31-17