What world are we in?
The top story between these two teams (aside from the whole Hue Jackson saga) is the mystery as to whether or not A.J. Green will suit up for the first time since Week 8. In the two games since he suffered a foot injury against the Buccaneers back in October, the Bengals offense is seventh-worst in yards per play and fourth-worst in first down percentage out of the 22 teams that didn’t have a bye week in that timeframe.
The Browns were one of the teams that did have a bye week, and at least one of their defenders isn’t scared of playing the Bengals offense without their best player.
“If they don’t have A.J. (Green), they’re getting their ass beat,” Browns safety Damarious Randall told reporters on Friday after practice.
The hierarchy of the AFC North has almost always had the Browns on the bottom. While the Steelers seem to handle the Bengals, the Bengals typically take care of the Ravens, and the Steelers and Ravens seem to trade blows pretty equally.
But everybody beats down the Browns, including the Bengals. So this statement is nothing if not bold.
The last time the Bengals lost to the Browns was in fact an “ass-beating” no doubt. The Browns came into Paul Brown Stadium on a Thursday night in November of 2014 and demolished them 24-3. Back then, Randall wasn’t even in the NFL yet.
Since that fateful night, the Bengals have beaten the Browns seven consecutive times, but Green has also been a part of six of those seven games as well. The one game where Green was sidelined, the Bengals topped the Browns in Cleveland 23-10 back in December of 2016. In that contest, the Bengals offense was carried by a 111-yard rushing performance from running back Jeremy Hill and two receiving touchdowns from tight end Tyler Eifert.
Neither player will be playing for Cincinnati on Sunday.
To be quite honest, the Browns are playing better football than the Bengals are right now. Ever since Cleveland let go of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, they seem to at least have a clue on offense, which is more than what the Bengals can say. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has been noticeably more efficient with the ball, and running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson are being utilized properly as a backfield tandem. And their offensive line has far more talent than the Bengals.
Still, the Browns have just three wins to their name and are still coming together as a unit. Along with that, the desperation factor also favors the Bengals, as they’re still alive in the playoff race.
But Cleveland has to realize this is their best chance to inject some shockwaves in the division. The Bengals offense is clearly lifeless without Green and Randall and the Browns defense have little to fear without him on the field. There is talent besides Green, but offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterback Andy Dalton have yet to maximize it in his absence.
Randall has made his stance, now it’s up to the Bengals to respond by maintaining the status quo.