The Cleveland Browns welcome in former head coach Hue Jackson and the rest of the Cincinnati Bengals in week 16 Sunday afternoon. Round two in the ‘Battle of Ohio’ will wrap up the home portion of the 2018 season. The Browns took the first meeting last month 35-20. So can Cleveland sweep the season series for the first time since 2002.
The Browns are a heavy favorite. Anywhere from eight and half points to double figures. When is the last time a Browns fan can say that? Despite being a heavy favorite, the Browns know they have to bring their ‘A’ game to FirstEnergy Stadium. The last time these two teams met and the Browns had a chance to make the playoffs, the Bengals spoiled the party. That was in 2007. There can not be a repeat performance on Sunday.
“It is about going out and doing what we are supposed to do,” head coach Gregg Williams said. “We do not worry about those things at all. We do focus our personal execution, whether it be an individual, whether it be a unit, whether it be a side of the ball or whatever and then as a team. When other things start to creep in, those distractions cause hesitations. At this level, there is not enough time for anybody to hesitate because the ability level and speed at this level gets you beat. We have to be right on with that.”
The Browns don’t plan on having Jackson’s return to Cleveland serve as a distraction. It wasn’t an issue in the first meeting in Cincinnati. The Browns took care of business. The same thing has to happen on Sunday, but will Jackson receive a Christmas present from defensive back Damarious Randall? He gave Jackson the football following his interception in the first meeting.
“What I did is what I did,” Randall said. “I am moving forward from that. We are looking at the second game versus the Bengals in Cleveland. We are just trying to get our record back even because we have some goals that we have to accomplish ourselves.”
Of course Baker Mayfield‘s relationship with his former coach had to be discussed. Hopefully it becomes a dead issue as soon as the end of Sunday’s showdown.
“I said what I said. It is another week,” Mayfield said. “We have to hit the reset button. We have to be able to come in, be able to block out the distractions, block out the outside noise like we have week to week every time this season and be able to do our job.”
The defense receives some good news for Sunday’s game. Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward is clear of the league’s concussion protocol. Ward returned to practice and will play against the Bengals.
“Longer than I expected,” Ward said. “Just glad to be back. I was out there today. I had fun. Able to be back with the guys, able to run around. Glad I am back.”
Ward and the rest of the secondary will face a make shift receiving core for the Bengals. All-pro A.J. Green reinjured his toe in the first meeting. Green is on injured reserve. Tyler Boyd has been ruled out for Sunday’s game. Boyd suffered a knee injury in last week’s victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Quarterback Andy Dalton is also on injured reserve. Jeff Driskell will be the Bengals starting quarterback. Injuries are the biggest storyline for the Bengals, but the Browns still can not take them lightly.
“It is a completely new game,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “We got on them quick last game and they are going to come back with some vengeance. I know they are ready to play. I would be if I was in their position, too. It is going to be a new battle. It is going to be a new day. They are going to come in and try and do what we did to them. We are bringing our A game. We know they have some players that are ready to go.”
Jabrill Peppers is one of six Browns players listed as questionable for the Bengals game. Peppers is coming off one his best games as a Cleveland Brown. He intercepted a pass in the end zone to stop a Denver Broncos scoring drive. Peppers also recorded the game ending sack to preserve the 17-16 win in Denver.
Despite the Browns eliminated in the playoff hunt, fans will pack into FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday. The Browns and Bengals game is sold out. When was the last time a late December home game in Cleveland was sold out. Mayfield called out the fans following the Carolina Panthers game. The fans got the message and will show their support for their home team.
“I did not know anything about it, but it does not surprise me that the fans are jumping on the bandwagon for everything. I think it is fantastic,” Williams said. “That is why we love playing at home. You want that. I can’t wait to hear them. I think it is pretty cool, I really do.”
“It makes it fun,” Mayfield said. “Not like a lot of that is playing into how the game goes, but that makes it all the more enjoyable. When you have that support, when you have people that have those shirts, those sayings and you wake up and you see those people wearing those shirts and say those things when you are on the streets, it makes it fun and it makes it feel like this is a whole team effort, which it is.”
CBS Sports will broadcast the game. The announcers are Spero Dedes and Adam Archuleta. The Browns radio broadcast is available on SiriusXM channel 229.
Cleveland will also wear the color rush uniforms. The Browns are 2-0 in them this season. The victories came against the New York Jets in addition to the Baltimore Ravens. A third win in the uniforms on Sunday guarantees the Browns will not finish last in the AFC North for the first time since 2010.