CINCINNATI - Week eleven of the NFL season, the tenth game of the year has the Cleveland Browns traveling south down interstate 71 to Cincinnati for an in-state showdown with their AFC North division rival Bengals.
It's going to be the biggest visit by the Browns to Paul Brown Stadium since the 2007 season. In 2007, the Browns could have clinched a playoff spot with a victory. The Browns lost 19-14 on that December afternoon and missed the playoffs because of a tiebreaker that sent the Tennessee Titans to the playoffs with a 10-6 record over the Browns.
The Browns will look for a third consecutive victory over the Bengals. The Browns won the first meeting of the season back in week four 17-6 at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won the final meeting in 2012, a 34-24 decision also in Cleveland. The Browns have not won at Paul Brown Stadium since a 20-12 victory on September 28, 2008. The Browns also in search of their first season sweep of Cincinnati since the 2002 season when the Browns made their only playoff appearance since returning to the NFL in 1999.
The Browns enter Sunday's matchup at 4-5 and coming off their bye week following a 24-18 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on November 3rd. The Bengals enter the game at 6-4. The Bengals have lost their last two games on the road in Miami back on Halloween night and last Sunday at Baltimore. Cincinnati leads the Browns by a game and a half in the AFC North. The Bengals have not had their bye week yet, it comes up after Sunday's game.
A win for the Browns will put them just a half game out of first place in the AFC North, but they would hold the tiebreaker if they finish tied with Cincinnati at the end of the season.
The Browns could be catching the right time. Cincinnati has lost its last two games and quarterback Andy Dalton has struggled in those games after being named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October. Dalton has thrown just two touchdowns and six interceptions in those losses. The Bengals are also injured on defense. Cincinnati will be without its best defensive player in defensive lineman Geno Atkins who is on injured reserve after suffering an ACL injury in their loss at Miami. The Bengals will also be without one of its top linebackers in Rey Maualuga who is dealing with a sprained MCL in his knee.
If the Browns want to leave Paul Brown Stadium with a season sweep of the Bengals, a key will be getting the running game going. The Browns are currently 27th in the league in rushing. With an 80 percent chance of rain in the forecast, the Browns will need Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker need to be keys to the offense.
On defense the Browns need to contain All-Pro wide receiver A.J Green in check again. In the week four meeting Joe Haden and the Browns secondary held Green to just 51-yards receiving on seven catches. The defense also needs to shutdown the Bengals dual running treats of Giovanni Bernard and BenJarvis Green Ellis. The Browns defense allowed the Bengals to rush for only 63 yards in the week four meeting.
It will be interesting to see how the Browns start the game on Sunday knowing how much is at stake. Its something this franchise has not experienced since the 2007 season. Will the Browns come out with energy and play aggressive, or flat and struggle again at Paul Brown Stadium. We'll find out at one o'clock on Sunday afternoon. Both Browns and Bengals fans should look forward to this "Rumble in the Jungle."