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Bengals at Browns: A mirror’s reflection

The Bengals head to Cleveland to take on the Browns in one of the most deep-rooted rivalries in football. Both teams have had disappointing seasons, but the Battle of Ohio always remains relevant.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

While The Battle of Ohio often falls under the national radar, it still stands as one of the most iconic NFL rivalries. The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns have so many deep roots, it would take hours to discuss all of the nuances. Immortal names from both teams like Paul Brown, Art Modell, Ken Anderson, Bernie Kosar and Anthony Munoz have all impacted the rivalry over the decades.

Unfortunately, the rivalry has also been marked by both teams experiencing long periods of struggles. The 1990s have affectionately been coined as “the lost decade” for the Bengals, as they personified failure. In fact, Paul Brown’s second football franchise was one of the worst teams in American sports history through the time period.

The Browns have done their best to supplant Cincinnati’s 1990s futility over the past 17 years. After Modell uprooted the team and created the Ravens, the Browns have struggled mightily since their re-inception in 1999. Since their re-creation, Cleveland’s football team hasn’t been able to find a quality coach or a long-term viable quarterback, hence their averaging of just over five wins per year from 1999-2015.

The Browns feel that they have finally found a guy to lead their franchise in the form of a talented assistant they plucked from a successful team within the division. Hue Jackson has strong ties to the Bengals, who have had a major renaissance under Marvin Lewis And the Browns are hoping the offensive wizard can breathe life back into Cleveland.

Unfortunately for Jackson and the Browns, it hasn’t been the immediate resurrection that was seen under Lewis with the Bengals back in 2003. After an 0-12 start to 2016 and seven different quarterbacks taking a snap for the team this year, there are potentially more questions than there were before Jackson was given the keys to the castle.

After coaching the insanely talented Bengals’ wide receiver group from 2004-2006, and working in three different capacities from 2012-2015, current players still know the impact he had on the team. Even without a single win this year while heading up the Browns, stars like Vontaze Burfict are feeling the vacancy their old assistant has left in 2016.

"I love Hue. I'm mad he left," Burfict told the media on Wednesday, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. "But he'll get that organization going sooner or later.''

Cincinnati is coming off of a nice bounce-back win against the Eagles as they head to the Dawg Pound this Sunday. The Bengals have a slim chance at making the playoffs this year, but they need to win out and get some major help if that is to happen. Week 14 against Cleveland seems like a gimme, but there are a number of factors in the Browns’ corner that are being overlooked.

Aside from A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard being out of the lineup this week, the Browns are at home, while coming off of a bye. Add a returning Robert Griffin III as the starter, Jackson’s familiarity with the Bengals and Cleveland’s hunger for a win, and you have a recipe for a landmark win for Jackson in his first year with Cleveland.

Even with those intangible facets playing to their advantage, the Browns still might need a small miracle to get their first win this year. The Browns are 29th in total offense, 31st in total defense and are essentially struggling to do anything well. One of the only hopes they have is in quality performances from Griffin to possibly instill hope that he is the future of their franchise.

One of the most interesting storylines of this game and of the year is in Terrelle Pryor’s emergence as a viable receiver for the Browns. After playing quarterback under Jackson while he was the head coach of the Raiders back in 2011, Pryor had a position change which has benefited him. Even with the quarterback carousel that has ensued in Cleveland, Pryor has still managed 62 catches for 855 yards and four touchdowns this year.

Pryor’s size along with Andrew Hawkins’ shiftiness could provide problems for a Bengals secondary that has been inconsistent this season. Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones have had a switch-a-roo, in terms of year-to-year performance from 2015 to 2016.

Jones was a Pro Bowler last year, but has struggled with age and safety personnel transition this year, while Kirkpatrick is rounding into form in a contract year. Both will need to have solid performances on Sunday against Pryor and Hawkins to quell any hopes of a Browns win.

We can talk about where the teams rank in various aspects all we would like, but, in truth, this game may come down to which team responds to their coach more effectively. The Bengals have the talent edge, but the Browns are absolutely ravenous for their first victory of the year, making this a dangerous situation for a Cincinnati team already skating on paper-thin postseason ice.

Even though the Bengals are playing for more than the Browns at this point, gaining wins for pride is still a goal for both squads. So, will Cincinnati’s locker room rally around Lewis and take care of business?

All realistic signs point to a Bengals win, but I just can’t shake an uneasy feeling that a Browns victory has to be peeking around the corner before this year is done. Maybe it’s due to the disappointing nature of this season for the Bengals, but I’m on my toes.

Either the Bengals will similarly roll akin to what they did to Johnny Manziel twice, or the Browns will rally around their coach to get an improbable first win. I’ll split it down the middle and think the Bengals keep a weak playoff pulse for at least one more week.

Bengals 31, Browns 20

AC — Miss ya, Hue.