Hottest Browns players
Donte Whitner – The veteran safety has helped force two crucial turnovers in back-to-back wins and has been absolutely everywhere in both stopping the run and defending the pass.
Joe Haden – Because of Haden's elevated play in recent weeks, the Browns' secondary has become the biggest strength on the team. His hot streak coincides well tonight with A.J. Green on the docket.
Andrew Hawkins – Don't let his one touchdown on the year fool you: Hawkins has been getting open consistently; he's been Brian Hoyer's go-to target on key third-downs and although he's a game-time decision against the Bengals, expect Hawkins to have some extra juice in his tank in his first matchup against his former team.
Hottest Bengals players
Jeremy Hill – After only being prominently used as the goal line running back, Hill burst onto the scene last Sunday against a stout Jacksonville front seven. His 154 yards against the Jaguars and 4.7 yards per carry on the season are frightening numbers for a Browns defense who has struggled to stop the run.
Mohamed Sanu – With Green sidelined the last couple of weeks with a toe injury, the Bengals offense has remained potent on the back of Sanu. In every game since Oct. 5, Sanu has had at least one catch of 32 yards and he's on pace for nearly 1,300 yards receiving this season.
Emmanuel Lamur – Who? That's exactly what we first thought about the outside linebacker until we started watching film and looking at the stats. Lamur can clean up everything in the running game and can defend tight ends in space. The 25-year-old from Kansas State, who played safety in college, is emerging as a vital piece to this lofty Cincinnati defense.
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Browns area of concern
Running the football – Cleveland became the first team in 63 years to win back-to-back games while averaging under 2.0 yards per carry in both contests. If the Browns expect to win, that can't go to a third straight week against the Bengals. It falls on both the offensive line and the trio of running backs – Ben Tate, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell – to fix this problem.
Bengals area of concern
Injuries – Up to six regular starters will be missing for Cincinnati when they take the field Thursday night against the Browns. The Bengals have made the playoffs in three straight seasons and a large part of it is because they've stayed relatively healthy. They'll need players to step up tonight, especially on the offensive line to replace Andre Smith. Browns pass rush Paul Kruger already has six sacks on the season.
Why the Browns can win the game
Why not? Coach Mike Pettine has this 5-3 team believing they can win any and every game on the schedule. And the Browns have played up to their competition earlier in the year. Nobody picked Cleveland in wins against the Saints and Steelers. This team seems to revel playing as the underdog and players like Brian Hoyer embody it. The Browns formula for victories is simple: Hoyer protects the football, the Browns can rush for more than 100 yards and the defense gets stops when they need to. It's easier said than done, but it's the expectation from Pettine and his players.
Why the Bengals can win the game
They are physically imposing and can control the tempo of the game. They have enough playmakers like Green and Sanu to get the Browns' secondary to play deeper, setting up Hill in the run game. Defensively look for Cincinnati to do what the Jaguars-Raiders-Buccaneers did: force Hoyer to try and beat you. Cleveland's quarterback was able to do so against Oakland and Tampa, but it will be a more difficult task in front of a hostile AFC North crowd on the road.