Cleveland (9-5) at Cincinnati (5-9)

Cleveland Browns Defense
28th Ranked against the Run
29th Ranked against the Pass
Cleveland Browns Offense
14th Ranked in Rushing
11th Ranked in Passing

Cincinnati Bengals Defense
24th Ranked against the Run
25th Ranked against the Pass
Cincinnati Bengals Offense
23rd Ranked in Rushing
5th Ranked in Passing

The Browns game in Cincinnati this Sunday is a pivotal game in the race for the only division in pro football that has not yet been clinched. By losing to the Jaguars at home last week, Pittsburgh has opened the door for Cleveland to snatch the division crown in the final two weeks of the season. Of course in order to do that, Cleveland will need to win it’s last two games against the Bengals and the 49ers, and the Steelers would have to lose their only remaining game at Baltimore. If Cleveland were only to tie Pittsburgh with an 11-5 or a 10-6 record, the Steelers 5-0 division record would give them the AFC North.

But before they can mount any serious challenge for the division, Cleveland’s first and foremost focus is on getting to the playoffs. They can clinch a wild card with a win at Cincinnati because at worst it would give them a season record of 10-6, and a strength of victory rating which the Titans could not match even if they closed out the season with three wins.

In the second week of the season, the Browns and Bengals combined to put up 96 total points on the scoreboard with Cleveland barely getting the better of the exchange and a 51-45 win. It’s true that the Bengals have scored remarkably few points recently; over the last three weeks they’ve averaged only 14 points per game, this after starting the season by scoring an average of better than 25 points in their first eleven games. And yet, this weeks matchup might still figure to be another high scoring shootout. Here’s why;

Defense; Neither team has one. The Bengals are fifth worst in the league and the Browns are dead last. Cleveland’s defense has allowed a league high 27 touchdown passes this year while 26 have been tossed against the Bengals. Each has allowed their opponents to score an average of 25 points per game.

Offensive Line; These are two units that protect their quarterback extraordinarily well, in fact they are tied with each other for second place in the league in fewest sacks by their opponents. Moreover, neither team ranks higher than 27th in sacks, so they haven’t had much luck pressuring their opponents passer either.

Quarterbacks; Browns Derek Anderson and Bengals Carson Palmer are among the top nine QB’s in the NFL for both yardage and for touchdowns, although Anderson has a slight edge with more touchdowns and fewer INT’s than Palmer.

Receivers; These two teams each have a pair of receivers that have combined for over 2000 yards on the season. The Browns WR/TE combo of Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow have caught 140 passes for 2141 yards while Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson and tight end T.J. Houshmandzadeh have 2293 yards and 186 catches between them. Only New England and Dallas have receiver tandems that have reached that mark, and only four other receiving duos in the league have as many touchdowns as Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Running Backs; Browns running back Jamal Lewis is the 7th leading rusher in the NFL, already having gained over 1000 yards this season. He’s also 5th in the league with 9 rushing touchdowns. The Bengals spread the running responsibilities between Kenny Watson and Rudi Johnson, who between them have combined for 8 touchdown runs and over 1000 yards.

But whether it’s a pair of monster offensive performances or a blowout, you have to believe that Cleveland is going to pull off the win. They have the momentum, a better balanced offense to handle any weather concerns and with the AFC North title still on the table they just have a lot more to play for.

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