For fans of both franchises, those who are faithful to either the Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals know at least a little bit of the history between the two teams. Paul Brown remains the figurehead who created both squads, and the animosity from his descendants hasn’t dissipated since the NFL icon was fired from his own original team in January of 1963.
Unfortunately for everyone associated with both franchises, they both embody postseason failure. Images of Joe Montana hitting Jerry Rice, Ernest Byner fumbling the football, or all kinds of other unbelievable images since the Browns’ re-inception into the NFL in 1999 cloud the minds of both fan bases.
Yet, with all of the similarities and parallels, the roads of both teams’ progress have diverged greatly since 2003. Yes, the Bengals have an 0-7 postseason record in that time, but Neo-Cleveland has just one postseason appearance to their name over the past 17 years.
And, at 0-10 this year, it’s safe to say Cleveland won’t be making their second appearance in the span this year.
Of course, a major difference between the Bengals’ 122-109-3 record under Lewis since his 2003 takeover and of the Browns in the same span is the disparity in amount of quarterbacks and head coaches in the tenure.
In that 15-year span, the Bengals have started five quarterbacks: Jon Kitna, Carson Palmer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron. Further to the point, Fitzpatrick and McCarron were only pressed into service for the Bengals because of injuries to Palmer and Dalton.
Meanwhile, the Browns are approaching something like 30 starting signal-callers in the same span. Cleveland has also had eight different head coaches in the 15-year span that Marvin Lewis has been the head man in Cincinnati.
Somehow, at 4-6 entering Week 12, Cincinnati has a pulse in the AFC playoff picture. It’s a faint one, but if they make their eighth appearance under Lewis’ watch, it might be their most impressive—especially in the Lewis’ final year of his contract.
As it stands, it would seem as if Cincinnati needs to go at least 5-1 over the final six games. The biggest ones left are obviously against the 8-2 Steelers, the 5-5 Ravens and the 9-2 Vikings. There is no doubt that everyone in the Bengals’ locker room has those games circled as the year concludes.
In doing so, they can’t afford to overlook the 0-10 Browns who come to town this week. Almost every single aspect of this game plays into the Bengals’ corner, ranging from the venue to overall roster talent.
Man, you have to feel for old Bengals friend, Hue Jackson, though. You don’t want him getting wins at the expense of his former employer, but 1-25 as the Browns head coach? Yikes.
This contest is about quarterbacks (as most football games are), as well as a few interesting rookies. DeShone Kizer remains Jackson’s guy under center, despite throwing five touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
Still, the rookie can make some plays with his legs, which has proven to give the Bengals’ defense problems. Kizer has rushed for 223 yards and four scores on the ground, giving cause for opposing defenses to always be on their toes.
Dalton has twice as many touchdowns (16) as interceptions (8) this year, while also compiling a rating of 90.7, but he has come under criticism. Not only has he collapsed under pressure, which has been frequent, but the offense, as a whole, has had major dry spells.
It seems as if Bill Lazor’s offense is completely feast-or-famine at this point. The Bengals’ offense is awful at maintaining possession and sustaining long drives, can’t run the football and aren’t good at pass protection. Yet, because of a number of big pass plays and adequate defensive stands, the Bengals have an inexplicable four wins in 2017.
Seriously, though—what do the Browns and the Bengals currently do well as football teams? I suppose one could say rushing the passer, in some capacity. The Bengals are in a tie for fourth in the NFL in quarterback sacks And, that’s where a couple of other rookies come into focus.
No. 1 overall pick, Myles Garrett, seemed to be in the mold of other great, recent pass-rushers like Jadeveon Clowney, Mario Williams and Julius Peppers. Though Garrett missed five games this year, he still has four sacks and is going up against the embattled Bengals left tackle, Cedric Ogbuehi.
Cincinnati has a somewhat-unheralded puss-rusher of their own in fourth-rounder Carl Lawson, who has 5.5 sacks in a reserve role. He’s also been one of Pro Football Focus’ most productive players per snap played, if geeking out on their data is your thing.
These are all matchups and players to watch, but there is also a wild card the Bengals employ in Week 12. Randy Bullock won the kicking job over Jake Elliott this year, and their seasons have gone different ways.
Bullock is 8-of-9 on field goal attempts (side note: think about that paltry amount of tries with 10 games played by the team), and has missed two critical extra points. Even though there are only six games left to play, Cincinnati remains non-committal to Bullock, who needs to have a stellar game for both the Bengals to win and, apparently, for him to keep his job.
2017 is a season where the Lewis coaching tree is on full display. Two games against Jackson notwithstanding, Cincinnati faced Vance Joseph, a former Bengals assistant from 2014-2015, is the head coach in Denver which they met last week and they see old friend Mike Zimmer and his 9-2 Vikings in Week 15.
But, of course, the Bengals absolutely need to focus on the task at hand. It might be easy to look past this Sunday, but if Cincinnati wants to continue to cling to their thin playoff hopes, they need to get after the Dawgs.
When it comes to the type of game played, a close-scoring affair plays into Cleveland’s hands. Aside from the upping of intensity because of a rivalry game, if a winless team sniffs an unlikely victory on the home turf of a divisional foe, they could dig deep and find a way to win one for their embattled coach.
However, as cynical as we can all often be with the Bengals and the idea of their possible allowance of a win to the Browns, the recent numbers just don’t point to it happening. In the Andy Dalton era (2011-present), Cincinnati is 10-3 against the Browns.
Moreover, the Bengals have won the last six contests since that Thursday night debacle back in 2014. It’s been so lopsided, in fact, that the Bengals have outscored the Browns 183-47 in those last six games.
It’s possible the Browns catch the Bengals overlooking them to other big games ahead, but I’m not going to go all “tinfoil hat guy”. The Bengals likely win a game that may make your eyes roll at times, but one in which they also hit cruise control by the time the fourth quarter rolls around.
Browns 13, Bengals 26
AC — Struggling to find reasons to be thankful this year.