Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns Pick & Prediction JANUARY 7th 2024

History is on the line when the Cleveland Browns visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in the regular-season finale for the Ohio rivals.

The two-time defending AFC North champion Bengals (8-8) were dethroned this year by the Baltimore Ravens and eliminated from playoff contention with a 25-17 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last week.

A Cincinnati win on Sunday would mark the first time since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger that every team in a division finishes above .500.

Cleveland (11-5) comes to Cincinnati having won four straight games and is seeking its first 12-win regular season since 1986.

After the Ravens clinched the division title with a rout of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Cleveland is locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs, the first wild-card position. The Browns are coming off an impressive 37-20 win over the New York Jets last week in their home finale.

Sunday will mark the 101st meeting in the “Battle of Ohio” between the two franchises co-founded by Paul Brown. The Browns have won nine of the past 11 meetings between the two, including a 24-3 rout in the season opener at Cleveland on Sept. 10. Cincinnati leads the overall series 52-48.

The Browns announced Wednesday that backup quarterback Jeff Driskel would start Sunday’s game, allowing regular signal-caller Joe Flacco to rest for the playoffs beginning the following weekend. Driskel will become the fifth starting quarterback for the Browns this season, following Deshaun Watson, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, PJ Walker and Flacco.

Driskel saw his first NFL action with Cincinnati in 2018 after being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2016. He spent most of this season on the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad before being signed by Cleveland last week.

“Jeff’s a guy with the system knowledge from Arizona,” Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said. “P.J. Walker will be the backup. He’s been great for us. He started in games and won for us. But just felt like this was the right thing to do for the team in this particular instance to give Jeff an opportunity to show us what he’s capable of as well.”

The Browns figure to rest most of their prominent starters in the same way Cincinnati did in Cleveland at the end of the 2021 regular season.

“We’re going to use this opportunity to rest some guys,” Stefanski said. “I feel like we’ve earned that opportunity with how we took care of business the previous week. With the roster limitations, you cannot rest everybody, so our full intent is to go down there, play well and get a win. That’s our motivation.”

The Bengals’ biggest motivation is to finish with a third straight winning season under Zac Taylor, but 9-8 still would be a disappointment following two straight division-winning seasons that ended with deep playoff runs.

“Unfortunately, not every year is your year,” Taylor said. “But again, we still have one more game to play. It’s a big game for us at home against a divisional team, so we’re not sitting here talking today like our season is over, because it’s not. We still have one big game left. We look forward to playing in front of our fans and I look forward to seeing our guys give their best effort.”

The Bengals will also be playing for some individual milestones. Running back Joe Mixon needs 77 rushing yards for 1,000 on the season. Ja’Marr Chase needs four catches for 100. Edge rusher Trey Hendrickson, tied for the NFL lead with 17 sacks, will try to become the first Bengal to lead the league in that category since the stat was first officially recognized in 1982.

Cincinnati wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday through Friday and was listed as doubtful. Chase (shoulder), limited in practice on Wednesday but a full participant on Thursday and Friday, was expected to be available. Cornerback Jalen Davis (groin) was limited in practice through the week and was questionable, as was cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (shoulder, calf), who missed Friday’s practice.

Cleveland running back Kareem Hunt (groin), guard Joel Bitonio (oblique, knee) and center Ethan Pocic (shoulder, stinger) were full participants on Friday and expected to be available. Kicker Dustin Hopkins (hamstring) and cornerback Greg Newsome II (knee) were downgraded to out. Linebacker Anthony Walker (knee), who missed the Wednesday practice, was not listed on Friday’s report.

The Browns also opted to rest star defensive end Myles Garrett (shoulder, hamstring) and wide receiver Amari Cooper (heel) for Week 18.

–Field Level Media

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