White-hot Bengals QB Joe Burrow will not play against the Browns, which means he will remain winless (0-3) against them until next year. (USA Today)
Cleveland Browns scouting report: Cincinnati Bengals
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is an analyst on the Cleveland Browns for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Browns v. Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 1 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium
Last game: Defeated Kansas City Chiefs, 34-31, Jan. 3, in Cincinnati.
Coach: Zac Taylor, 16-31-1, third year.
Series record: Bengals lead, 51-45.
Last meeting: Browns won, 41-16, Nov. 7, in Cincinnati.
League rankings: Offense is ninth overall (22nd rushing, seventh passing), defense is 18th overall (fifth rushing, 27th passing), turnover differential is minus-2.
Things to watch
1. The Bengals are in an unfamiliar position of resting regulars in their last game. They clinched their first AFC North title since 2015. Currently the No. 3 AFC playoff seed, they don’t see the value in risking injuries to key players because a lot of things would have to happen for them to move up. Quarterback Joe Burrow, who came up limping after sacks in each of his last two games, will not play. Burrow put on a late rush for MVP consideration with monster games against the Ravens and Chiefs to clinch the division title. Burrow was 67 of 85 (78.8%) for 971 yards, 8 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and a passer rating of 145.6.
2. It’s probable that receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the leading contender for offensive rookie of the year, also will not play. Zac Taylor has not announced others beyond Burrow. The Bengals definitely will be without five starters recently placed on COVID/reserve – running back Joe Mixon, pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, safety Vonn Bell, left guard Quinton Spain and center Trey Hopkins.
3. While the lethal Burrow-Chase connection is most responsible for the Bengals’ turnaround, two other areas should not be overlooked. The Bengals’ run defense gave up the most yards on the ground over the previous three years, but ranks fifth this year at 96.1 yards per game. Also, their very good special teams have been under radar for several years. Fifth-round rookie kicker Evan McPherson has made 28 of 33 field goals, including a Bengals record nine of 50 yards or longer, and three walk-off game-winners.
4. For years, the Bengals embraced the reputation as skinflints who treasured the bottom line over over-spending in free agency. Yet they’ve committed about $250 million in free agency in the last two seasons and the two most expensive investments in their history – pass rusher Trey Hendrickson ($60 million) and defensive tackle D.J. Reader ($52 million) – have paid huge dividends. Hendrickson (out with COVID) broke the franchise sack record with 14 and Reader has been instrumental in the clampdown on the run.
Did you know … ?
1. Burrow’s 15 touchdowns of 30 yards or more are the most in the NFL. Next-best are Tom Brady with eight and Patrick Mahomes with seven.
2. Chase has shattered Bengals rookie records with 79 receptions for 1,429 yards and 13 touchdowns. All Browns wide receivers have combined for six touchdowns.
3. Bill Belichick is the Browns coach with most wins against the Bengals. He was 8-2 against them in 1991-95.
4. Burrow, who will not play, is 0-3 against the Browns, though he had a 91.7 passer rating in those games.
Small world: President Mike Brown is the son of Browns founding coach Paul Brown … Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was a third-round draft pick of the Browns in 2017 and played with them through 2020 … Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is the son of Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan … Defensive quality control coach Louie Cioffi was Browns defensive backs coach in 2013 and 2016.