Divisional games are always intriguing in the NFL, and a clash of AFC North foes on Sunday won’t be any different. The Cleveland Browns will make the short road trip to face their in-state rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns are coming off of a comfortable win in Week 13 against the Houston Texans, defeating them by a final score of 27-14. The Bengals were also victorious last Sunday, edging out the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24.
This game is a rematch of a contest that took place on Halloween night, where the Browns beat the Bengals 32-13.
Let’s take a look at three keys to the game.
A QB Duel On Paper
Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson made his long-awaited return to the NFL last Sunday against his former team. He appeared to be a bit rusty, as he went 12/22 for 131 yards with one interception. It seemed like Cleveland’s coaching staff didn’t want to put too much pressure on him in his return to Houston, and also feature their dynamic running game against an inferior opponent.
Against the Bengals though, Watson might not be able to hide if Cleveland has a legitimate chance of winning. Cincinnati features one of the highest powered offenses in the league, and Watson will need to show glimpses of his former self in order to keep Cleveland in the game. Watson and Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow haven’t really been good at the same time due to circumstances, but the former will need to remind fans just how good he can be.
Mixon Up The Bengals Backfield?
Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon has been out of the lineup recently with a concussion, and may indeed make it back to the field for the Cleveland game. He’s one of the most talented backfield players in the league, but his backup has been awfully impressive in his absence.
Samaje Perine has done a tremendous job filling in for Mixon. He’s run with power and aggression, and is not usually tackled by the first defender to get a hand on him. Perine’s been used in a similar fashion to Mixon, running between the tackles and catching some passes out of the flat. If Mixon is cleared to play on Sunday, it’ll be interesting to see whether head coach Zac Taylor gives his starting running back the majority of the touches in his return to the lineup.
As previously mentioned, this Sunday will be the second time that these two teams square off this season. The Bengals’ defeat to Cleveland in October was viewed as a surprise to many, and a disappointing loss. Cincinnati was without wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase in that game, who should be able to suit up for the rematch.
After somewhat of an uneven start to the year, Cincinnati has found their rhythm, and will do everything in their power to secure a game that they are favored to win. They may try to feed Chase early and often in this game.