I asked Chris once again to drop some knowledge on us from the perspective of a Browns fan about the team a few hundred miles up I-71. Below are my questions and his answers.
1. I can't remember when a Bengals Vs. Browns matchup had this much post season implications for both teams. I guess in 2007 the Browns needed a win against the Bengals and they would have had a legitimate claim to the playoffs comes close, but the Bengals were already out of it at that point. Is this the biggest interstate 71 matchup that you can think of in recent history?
I wrote an article this week recounting how much that game still stings. It goes to show you that nobody should ever take anything for granted in the NFL. The Bengals were 5-9 heading into that game, and Cleveland was looking to clinch a playoff spot. After a season of a surging offense, Derek Anderson just looked god-awful out of nowhere and cost the Browns their shot at the postseason.
Even though the records are different this time around, confidence-wise, this game seems kind of similar. The Browns appear to be playing at their peak. The Bengals, meanwhile, are spiraling downward a bit after losing two straight games and seeing Geno Atkins go down for the season. Just like last time, though, we can't take anything for granted. The Bengals are 4-0 at home and should probably still win the AFC North. This is definitely the highest stakes game between these two teams in recent history this late in the season; it's great to see Pittsburgh and Baltimore out of the limelight for once.
2. The first Bengals - Browns matchup this season was ugly for the Bengals. The Browns were able to exploit the Bengals with Jordan Cameron and great QB play from Brian Hoyer. This week, the Bengals will see Jason Campbell behind center. What can we expect?
I supported the change away from Brandon Weeden, simply because of how lost he looked this season. My confidence level in Jason Campbell was very low, though - I thought he would look slow, out-of-sync with the offense, and would eventually be replaced by Weeden again. I couldn't have been more wrong.
I've watched Campbell off-and-on from all the years he was with Washington and Oakland, and this two-game stretch is by far the best I've ever seen him play. It's pretty mind-boggling because of just how definitively he has exceeded my expectations. He has not been fazed by the pass rush, has been very accurate, has scrambled for quite a few first downs, and has made smart decisions. Dare I say it, I think he's even been throwing the deep ball better than Weeden was, and that was supposed to be Weeden's strength. I'm still hesitant to proclaim Campbell as our 2013 savior based on two games, but if he keeps this up against the Bengals, a lot of teams are going to fear the Browns the rest of the season.
3. In our first round of questions I asked if you thought the Browns were tanking the season and the outlook moving forward. You were spot on that you had confidence in the defense and that the team would still be competitive. Based on the way it looks today, the Browns are just outside looking in for the playoffs. What does your gut say, do the Browns get to the post season?
I'm going to say "yes," and that doesn't even mean the Browns would have to win the AFC North. They could lose this week and still be very competitive in the AFC wildcard race. The way I look at things right now, the final wildcard team in the AFC could realistically finish at 8-8. If the Browns fall to 4-6 with a loss to the Bengals, that means they'd need to go 4-2 to finish off the season. They can get three of those four wins against the Steelers and the Jaguars. The fourth win they would need? Week 16 against the New York Jets, a game that could also give Cleveland a wildcard tiebreaker over the Jets.
4. Previously I asked if you were sad to see Trent Richardson go. You said no. So, are you happy to see him struggle in Indy?
I'll put it this way: I'm happy that Trent Richardson is not going "beast-mode" with Indianapolis, because it helps validate what many Clevelanders were saying to the critics when we traded him: he's not a great running back - at least not yet. When I watch Richardson take a handoff from Andrew Luck, though, I'm not sitting there thinking, "boy, I sure hope Richardson gets stuffed here so the trade continues to look like a win for us!"
I hope Richardson gets better next season for the Colts, but if that happens, Indianapolis is going to have to upgrade their offensive line significantly. The thing I've been surprised with is that the Colts aren't taking advantage of Richardson's biggest strength, which is as a receiver.
5. Even though Cincy holds a lead in the division, which team needs this win more?
The Browns need this win more. Wildcard possibilities aside, we want to win the AFC North. There is a big difference between heading into Week 12 being 0.5 games behind the division lead and being 2.5 games behind the division lead. Being 2.5 games back would crush Cleveland's hopes of winning the division. If the Bengals lose their third straight game and see their division lead shrink to just half a game, sure, they will be crushed too, but they'll also have some time to regroup and get on a hot streak to close out the season.