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Browns-Bengals: 7 things to watch for

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1)     *Jeremy Hill vs. The Browns front seven*

All signs are pointing to Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard (hip/clavicle) missing Thursday night's game. Unfortunately for the Browns, his backup Hill might be an even tougher matchup. Hill is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, has five touchdowns and last week against the stingy Jaguars defensive line, he exploded for a career-high 154 yards. Hill is a 238-pound bowling ball and Cleveland may have to stack the box with Donte Whitner to make sure the rookie running back from LSU doesn't roam free.

2)     *Mohammed Sanu vs. Buster Skrine*

Skrine has had the best season of his career thus far. In Week 6 against the Steelers, he played lockdown defense and came up with an interception on Ben Roethlisberger. But last week against Tampa Bay, Skrine will be the first to tell you he didn't play up to his capabilities. Buccaneers rookie receiver Mike Evans had himself a day – 7 catches, 124 yards, 2 touchdowns – while Skrine marked him mostly. Cleveland needs Skrine more than ever this week. Sanu is leading the Bengals in receptions (39), yards (628) and receiving touchdowns (6).

3)     *Brian Hoyer vs. himself *

At times Hoyer has looked brilliant on the road, especially Week 5 at Tennessee when he orchestrated the NFL's largest road comeback of all-time. Other times, like Week 7 in Jacksonville, Hoyer's play led to the Browns' eventual demise. There will be points in this game where the Browns will need Hoyer to create something on his own ala his deep touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel against Tampa Bay. But Hoyer must not force passes, though. Two interceptions last week nearly cost the Browns the game. If he remains calm, cool and collected like he has much of the season, Cleveland could very well be in position to upset the Bengals and earn a 6-3 record.

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4)     *Browns running game vs. Bengals linebackers*

Vontaze Burfict is out (knee surgery) and Ray Maulauga (hamstring) has not practiced this week for Cincinnati. The Bengals are happy with third-year linebacker Emmanuel Lamur (49 tackles, 2 interceptions) but Cincinnati ranks 30th in the NFL in stopping the run. The Bengals may be forced to start Nico Johnson, who was claimed off Kansas City's practice squad, at middle linebacker. There's reason to believe that Cleveland's offensive line can raise their performance and they can run the ball like they did in September. Also, watch for Isaiah Crowell to earn more carries this week. It's just a hunch, but the undrafted rookie might ignite the stagnant rushing attack.

5)     *Andrew Hawkins' return to Cincinnati *

Read our full profile of the Browns' leading receiver's high-strung emotions here. Hawkins is a game-time decision. While always plays his heart out, expect his energy level to be at an all-time high Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

6)      Browns coverage teams vs. Adam "Pacaman" Jones.

Jones leads the league in punt and kick return average. Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor knows what type of damage Jones can do. In a Week 2 game against the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium in 2012, Jones made seven Browns defenders miss as he went up the left sideline for an 81-yard touchdown on the first punt of the game. The Bengals have four punt returns of 20 yards or more, which is tied for third in the league while the Browns have allowed just one.

7) Joe Haden vs. A.J. Green

The two are rivals from their college days when Haden was at Florida and Green at Georgia. In both meetings last year, Haden dominated Green including a pick-six in the second game in Cincinnati. Green returned last week after missing three games due to a toe injury and scored a touchdown. While Haden has had his way, Green can still be dangerous with a big play.

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