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5 keys to a Bengals victory over the Browns

The Bengals travel to Cleveland to face a Browns team that is starving for its first win of the season. What does Cincinnati has to do to keep their slim playoff hopes alive?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, the Bengals kept some slim playoff hopes alive in 2016 with their win against the Eagles last Sunday. Keeping the door open for an improbable division title for Cincinnati is the fact that three of the remaining four games on the schedule are against AFC North foes.

In Week 14, the Bengals travel to Cleveland to face the 0-12 Browns. Given the disparity in records (the Bengals are 4-7-1) and overall roster talent, it would seem as if this Sunday will be a walk in the park for Cincinnati. If it is to be as such, the Bengals will need to achieve these five keys in order to get their fifth win of the season.

Continue to get by without A.J. Green:

It looks as if the star wide receiver will be out of the lineup once again this week, as he didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday. While points were tough to come by against the Bills and Ravens without him, the offense had a great day against Philadelphia with Andy Dalton spreading the ball to nine different targets.

Tyler Boyd and Tyler Eifert stepped up in Weeks 11 and 12, but it was Brandon LaFell who stole the show last week with five catches for 95 yards and a score. Green has dominated the Browns of late, as evidenced by his eight catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in 2016’s first go-round in “The Battle of Ohio”, so the aforementioned trio will need to have a solid afternoon to keep Dalton’s confidence high.

Does someone want to cover a tight end?

The Bengals’ defense has stepped up over the past handful of weeks, but it has only translated to just one win since Week 7. While they have cleaned up a lot of issues, the back seven of the defense is still letting opposing tight ends make a lot of plays. Even when way ahead last week and Carson Wentz throwing the ball in garbage time, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton combined for 14 catches, 132 yards and a touchdown.

Because of the massive issues the Browns have had at quarterback, Gary Barnidge hasn’t looked like the same Pro Bowl player from last year. That doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous anymore though, and he’ll likely be used frequently this week, whoever is playing quarterback for Cleveland. A couple of Cincinnati defenders will need to have a watchful eye on him.

Get an early lead to squash Browns’ hopes:

There are a number of things playing into Cleveland’s corner when it comes to getting their first win at the Bengals’ expense. They are playing at home, they’re coming off of a bye, you know they are starving for a win, and head coach Hue Jackson is very familiar with the Bengals. While this could very well be a blowout win for the Bengals, these facets are quietly leading to a “what just happened?” kind of scenario.

Because of all of these factors, Cincinnati getting an early lead in this game could be of paramount importance. Any time a reeling team gets a glimmer of hope early on, it can lead to an improbable win. And, as we know, the Browns getting their first win of the year at the expense of the Bengals would be the icing on a very bitter 2016 cake.

Prep for any possible quarterback, or all 4 of them:

In the first matchup this season, the Bengals faced Cody Kessler for the first part of the game, only to see him leave with an injury. Kevin Hogan came in as relief and he made things interesting—particularly with his legs. This time around, we know Cleveland is planning to start Robert Griffin III, while Kessler practiced as a full participant on Wednesday and Thursday. And, anyone who has watched RG3 over the years knows that he could leave the game with an injury at any moment.

Cincinnati has faced both quarterbacks just once in their respective careers, so experience against them and tape on both is limited. The Bengals’ defense will need to have a much better showing against Griffin this year, than that from 2012, when Griffin had two total touchdowns and a 90.4 rating. Jackson likely won’t put Griffin into a compromising position with a bunch of read option calls, but they will be sprinkled in on Sunday. There’s also Josh McCown who has only faced the Bengals as a member of the Buccaneers. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the Browns throw multiple quarterbacks into this matchup.

Don’t get cute:

Sometimes when a team goes up against a lesser opponent, they feel the need to try out unfamiliar concepts and get tricky on offense. While it can lead to big plays, it’s also a high risk/high reward type of situation. Most of the time, it benefits a team to just line up in normal formations and do the things your squad does best.

Some of Jeremy Hill’s best games as a pro have come against the Browns, like his 168-yard performance in Week 7 this year. In five career games against Cleveland, Hill has four rushing touchdowns, so lining up and playing smash-mouth football, especially with Green and Giovani Bernard out of the lineup, could be the simplest and best way to win while also achieving the No. 3 point on this list.