We all know that the AFC North is a bruising division. For years, big names from Baltimore and Pittsburgh have carved their way into NFL immortality and made Hall of Fame careers for themselves. The past decade and a half has featured some of the league's finest defenses in which the Cincinnati Bengals had the (dis)pleasure of facing twice a year, every year.
With the changing of the guard that has begun to take place in the AFC North, two of the other teams in the division have built their own stout defenses. Since Mike Zimmer took over the Bengals defense in 2008, the unit is continually ranked in the top-ten and is looked at as the strength of the team. Across the great state of Ohio, though, the Cleveland Browns have built their own respectable unit. Say what you want about their never-ending quest to find a quarterback, but the Browns have figured out a formula to intimidate opposing offenses.
After finishing in the top-ten in total defense last season, the Browns, now under the tutelage of former Bengals defensive back Ray Horton, sit at No.5 in the league in defense at Week 11. While there aren't many superstars on the unit, they play well together and thrive on stopping the run to allow the offense to do just enough to pull out a win.
Sound familiar? The Bengals have continued to build their own stout group and even though they have suffered some severe injuries this year, they just keep making plays. And, wouldn't you know it? The Bengals come into Sunday's huge divisional game ranked just ahead of Cleveland at No.4 in total defense.
Some people don't take stock in the total yards per game allowed statistic that dictates an overall ranking--the Bengals are allowing 311.4 and the Browns are allowing 315.7, in case you're wondering. Also, if your curiosity is getting the best of you, the Bengals offense mustered just 266 yards of offense (203 passing, 63 rushing), while the Browns offense under Brian Hoyer managed to get 336 (247 passing, 89 rushing). But, to further show how much the units mirror each other, only three spots separate their pass defenses with the Bengals at No.7 and Browns at No.10, while Cleveland is No.6 against the run and the Bengals are No.9.
In short, this game will likely come down to which offense makes the least amount of mistakes, and can find those one or two moments of weakness to take advantage of a strong opposing defense. Don't expect a pretty game on Sunday, but rather a bare knuckle bruise-fest that might not reach 40 total points.