Something strange is happening when the Cleveland Browns are playing the Cincinnati Begnals for a game with serious playoff and division title implications. But the Bengals have been one of the more consistent teams in the NFL over the last few years and the Browns, after years of trial and error, might finally have themselves a head coach and quarterback worth holding on to.
How weird it is to have both teams in this situation? The last time both teams met and they both had a record of over .500 was in 1986. Bernie Kosar and Boomer Esiason were the quarterbacks, and the Browns walked away with a 34-3 win in Cincinnati. That kind of result and dominance is highly unlikely, although the Bengals did beat the Browns by 21 points the last time these two met, also in Cincinnati, in mid November last season.
The Bengals are 5-2-1 and the Browns are 5-3. Both teams are almost identical in their offensive and defensive productions. From rushing to passing, stopping the run and stopping the pass, both teams are almost identical when it comes to the numbers. But there is plenty about them that goes beyond the box score and should be considered.
The names playing for the Bengals are more impressive. Giovani Bernard isn’t playing again, but Jeremy Hill ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns as the Bengals beat the Jaguars last weekend. Mohamed Sanu and A.J. Green make up what is possibly the best wide receiver duo in the NFL. The Browns have been doing well so far with Hoyer running the show, throwing to Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel, but there are very few players on the Browns that the Bengals would take over any one of their guys.
One problem for the Browns is running the ball since Alex Mack ended his season with a broken fibula as they beat the Steelers 31-10. They averaged 146.4 yards on the ground through the first five games, but have only 158 over the last three, playing without Mack. Both of their leading rushers – Ben Tate and Terrance West, are averaging less than four yards a carry. Still, the Browns game plan is more about establishing a ground game, as slugging as it is, before having Hoyer trying to win with his arm.
The Bengals are doing the same thing. Despite Andy Dalton being their franchise guy, he isn’t trusted to win games simply by throwing. He runs for touchdowns quite a lot on short-yardage situations. Dalton has thrown six interceptions this season and only eight touchdown passes. Five of his interceptions have come over the last four games.
As for more injury problems on both teams, Andrew Hawkins has a leg injury that might keep him out of the game. Jordan Cameron isn’t going to play due to a concussion, leaving Hoyer with a very limited stock of passing options. The Bengals might have a problem protecting Dalton, with Andre Smith suffering a sprained ankle, possibly keeping him out of the game.