KEYS TO THE GAME
Score early and often
The Browns have everything to play for — a win and they’re in the playoffs — while the Bengals are merely trying to play the role of spoiler. An early lead by the Browns would take the crowd out of it and might sap the Bengals’ spirit.
Of course, Carson Palmer and Co. can put up points in a hurry, so the Browns must keep the pressure on with touchdowns. It took 51 points for a win in Week 2 and the Browns may need to hit 40 again. If they let Cincinnati hang around and build some momentum, the Browns could be susceptible to a fourth-quarter comeback.
The Bengals have been a bad matchup for the Browns for the last four years, using three-receiver sets and a no-huddle approach to spread out the defense and take advantage of mismatches in the secondary. This was obvious in a 58-48 Browns loss in 2004 and a 51-45 win in Week 2, when Chad Johnson had 11 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns and T.J. Houshmandzadeh had eight catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Browns feel more confident this week, pointing to the experience gained by rookies Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald. They will be counted on heavily as Chris Henry (6-foot-4) is back from suspension and gives the Bengals three imposing receivers. McDonald could find himself one-on-one on the outside with Henry, who has a 6-inch height advantage.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns running back Jamal Lewis vs. Bengals linebacker Landon Johnson
Lewis is making himself some money with a season-ending surge. The free-agent-to-be has averaged 113.8 yards in the last five games, including 163 on 33 carries last week in a snowstorm vs. Buffalo. Lewis had 216 on 27 carries (8.0 average) in Week 2 vs. the Bengals, including a 66-yard touchdown. In 12 games against the Bengals, Lewis has 1,459 yards rushing, a 5.5 average and 10 rushing TDs.
The Bengals rank 24th against the run, allowing 119.4 yards per game. They had been playing well lately, allowing an average of 73.5 yards over a five-game span, but gave up 156 last week to San Francisco. Johnson had 14 tackles and leads the team with 125. He’s all but guaranteed the team tackles title for the third time in four seasons.
Browns tight end Kellen Winslow vs. Bengals safety Dexter Jackson
Winslow is due. He didn’t make the Pro Bowl (he was first alternate behind Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez) and has been held to nine catches for 97 yards and no touchdowns in the last three games. He caught six passes for 100 yards and a touchdown vs. the Bengals in Week 2 and could help expose a pass defense that ranks 24th (228.1 yards).
Jackson is 6-foot, 210 pounds, giving up 4 inches and 40 pounds to Winslow. Madieu Williams would normally draw the assignment, but he’s doubtful with a quadriceps injury. Jackson, who’s questionable with a calf, has 78 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and two recoveries.
WHERE: Paul Brown Stadium
TIME: 1 o’clock
RECORDS: Browns 9-5; Bengals 5-9
LAST WEEK: Browns beat Bills 8-0; Bengals lost to 49ers 20-13
SERIES: Tied at 34
SERIES AT CINCINNATI: Bengals lead 21-13
LAST MEETING: Browns won 51-45 on Sept. 16 in Cleveland
COACHES: Romeo Crennel is 19-27 with Browns and overall; Marvin Lewis is 40-39 with Bengals and overall
TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with broadcasters Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf; WMMS 100.7-FM,
NFL RANKINGS (OUT OF 32 TEAMS): Browns — offense 10th (14th rushing, 11th passing), defense 32nd (28th rushing, 29th passing); Bengals — offense 7th (23rd rushing, 5th passing), defense 28th (24th rushing, 24th passing)
BROWNS UPDATE: The Browns are 3-2 in the AFC North, and a win over the Bengals would give Cleveland a winning record inside the division for the first time since returning in 1999. The Browns were 3-3 in 2002 and 5-5 in 2001, before realignment.
• KR Joshua Cribbs and WR Braylon Edwards were voted to the Pro Bowl. TE Kellen Winslow, LG Eric Steinbach, LT Joe Thomas and QB Derek Anderson were first alternates.
• Anderson is 9-7 as a starter, and his .563 winning percentage is by far the best since 1999. Tim Couch is second at .373 (22-37).
• Edwards needs one touchdown catch, his 14th, to hold the single-season franchise record. Edwards had two touchdowns versus the Bengals in September.
• RG Ryan Tucker will make his 100th career start. He’s made 68 since joining the Browns in 2002.
• The Browns haven’t swept a season series from the Bengals since 2002.
• K Phil Dawson needs six points to pass Lou Groza for most points in a season by a Browns kicker. Dawson has 110.
BENGALS UPDATE: QB Carson Palmer threw a career-high six touchdown passes in Week 2 in Cleveland. His 401 passing yards that day are the most in the AFC this year. He threw his 100th touchdown pass last week in his 59th game. Only four players have reached 100 faster. Palmer needs 336 yards to break his team record for passing yards (4,035). He’s third in the league with 339 completions, sixth with 3,700 yards and ninth with 22 TDs. He’s thrown 17 INTs.
• The Bengals are sixth in red zone defense, having allowed 23 touchdowns in 49 trips.
• WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh has a team-record 101 catches.
• WR Chad Johnson is fourth in the league with 1,265 yards. He leads NFL receivers with 68 first downs.
• K Shayne Graham is second all time with an 85.14 field-goal percentage. Dawson is fourth at 82.95.
• Rookie CB Leon Hall leads the team with four interceptions.
BROWNS INJURY UPDATE: Questionable: NT Ethan Kelley (knee), LB Antwan Peek (ankle); Probable: CB Leigh Bodden (back), DE Orpheus Roye (knee), DE Robaire Smith (back), DL Shaun Smith (back)
BENGALS INJURY REPORT: Out: RB Rudi Johnson (hamstring); Doubtful: S Madieu Williams (quad); Questionable: OT Willie Anderson (knee), S Dexter Jackson (calf); Probable: G Stacy Andrews (knee), WR Chris Henry (ankle), CB Deltha O’Neal, DT Domata Peko (ankle)
THE PICK: A Palmer interception turns the game, and the Browns are in the playoffs. Browns 34-27.