The Browns will travel to Cincinnati on Sunday to face a division rival in the Bengals. While the Browns will be resting some of their offensive starters, they will still compete hard against a Bengals defense that is eager to get their first division win of the season.
"We want that, too. Especially against a rival like the Browns," DE Sam Hubbard told reporters in Cincinnati. "It's a great opportunity to finish on a high note. I know we finished 2019 with a home win against the Browns. We were 2-14 that year, but it was really good for momentum coming into the offseason."
The Browns offense will go against a Bengals defense that is 28th in the league in passing yards allowed with 4,314. They have also given up a total of 2,041 rushing yards – 25th in the league – and allow an average of 382.8 total yards this season, which is second worst in the league, per ESPN.
The Bengals defense has struggled this season, as they haven't tackled well and have been beaten in the backfield on different occasions.
Throughout different points of the season, the Bengals secondary has given up a significant play to the opposing teams. During their Week 17 game against the Chiefs, QB Patrick Mahomes threw a 67-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Rashaee Rice, which was the longest pass play of the season against the Bengals. This play put the Chiefs at the Bengals' 11-yard line towards the end of the third quarter.
In Week 16 against the Steelers, a missed tackle on a slant route resulted in an 86-yard touchdown for Pittsburgh. QB Mason Rudolph's first pass of the game found WR George Pickens, who evaded rookie CB DJ Turner and S Dax Hill – who missed the tackle and knocked down Turner in the process.
Five Browns were selected for the 2024 Pro Bowl Games. G Joel Bitonio, WR Amari Cooper, DE Myles Garrett, TE David Njoku and CB Denzel Ward were all selected with Bitonio, Garrett and Cooper being voted as starters. The 2024 Pro Bowl Games will be a multi-day AFC versus NFC competition culminating on Sunday, Feb. 4 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
If the Browns execute well offensively, there's potential for big play opportunities for the Browns on Sunday. Even though QB Joe Flacco will not be playing, the team is still confident in QB Jeff Driskel to make plays. Despite just arriving to the team after he was signed to the active roster on Dec. 29, Driskel appreciates the opportunity and is ready to play to win on Sunday.
"We're going to go out and try to win this game," Driskel said. "And that's what we've been doing all week. We've been working hard, getting to know our opponent, getting to know the game plan. But that's really been the message is go try to win a football game."
Driskel has thrown for 2,228 yards in his fifth year in the NFL, completing 59 percent of his career passes, with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He will have playmakers like RB Pierre Strong Jr., WR David Bell and WR Cedric Tillman at his disposal.
In the run game, RB Kareem Hunt and RB Jerome Ford have taken most of the snaps this season. The group attempts were down in a four-week stretch from Week 12-16 but have gone back up the last two weeks.
If Hunt and Ford rest Sunday, it will be an opportunity for Strong to get more playing time. Strong has had minimal playing time this season, with his highest number of rushing attempts in a game being only 10. In that game against the Seahawks, he rushed for 41 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry.
Strong has a total of 49 carries this season for 226 yards and a touchdown. He's averaging 4.6 yards per carry, which leads all running backs on the Browns. Strong also has had two games this season with runs for over 40 yards.
"I am just ready to go," Strong said. "I have been waiting my turn and just being patient. Sunday, I will get to showcase my skills and show the coaches what Pierre is about."
At receiver, Bell and Tillman also have been patient and waiting for a moment to showcase their talents. With WR Amari Cooper out with a heel injury and WR Elijah Moore in concussion protocol but questionable for Sunday's game, both young receivers will be ready to play hard against the Bengals.
Bell showed a glimpse of his talent in Week 14 against the Jaguars. Flacco found Bell open on a fourth-and-3 in the fourth quarter, and Bell caught the ball and ran for a 41-yard touchdown. It was his first touchdown of his career.
Tillman hasn't had many memorable moments in receiving the ball this season, but the rookie can't wait for his opportunity Sunday to show his entire skill set. He has caught 18 passes for 181 yards.
"I am going to try to make explosive plays," Tillman said. "When I get the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do some good things. It's all about consistency and staying as consistent as possible. Also locking in on details."