The Browns began their regular season by playing against the Bengals, and they will also end the season playing against them. Entering Week 18, the Browns will have the luxury of resting key players as their hard work this season earned them the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs. They will play a handful of backups against the Bengals.
"I feel like we've earned that opportunity with how we took care of business the previous week," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "So, our full intent is to go down there, play well and get a win. That's our motivation. That's what we plan on doing. I think it's a great opportunity for some guys that haven't had a ton of playing time to get out there."
Here are three questions the Browns must answer on Sunday.
Will the Browns finish strong?
The Browns would like to finish strong despite some of their starters resting on Sunday. However, they aren't going into Sunday to give the Bengals a free win. They will look to get their 12th win of the season, a feat they haven't accomplished since 1986.
The Bengals will be playing their starters and are using the game against the Browns as motivation for the off-season. HC Zac Taylor has stated that the team's top objective is to beat the Browns by any means necessary.
The game will be very physical, so it's important for the Browns not to back down and bring the fight back to the Bengals. They have the opportunity to sweep the Bengals this season after defeating them 24-3 in Week 1.
The Browns are focusing on finishing the season crisp and strong. Stefanski mentioned how they had a good week of practice and are looking forward to Sunday.
"For us, we feel really strong about the guys that we're putting on the field, and we're excited about the opportunity, and it's football, so you want to win," Stefanski said.
How will the defensive backs look against the Bengals receivers?
If the expected starting corners rest Sunday, the backups will have their hands full going against the Bengals receiver corps. The Bengals receivers give starting cornerbacks problems and will try to have a huge day against any team's backups.
This season, the Bengals have 4,081 receiving yards, ranking 10th in the league. They have 10 receptions that went over 40 yards and 24 receiving touchdowns. The group features WR Ja'Marr Chase, WR Tee Higgins and WR Tyler Boyd. The trio has been together for three seasons and have been giving opposing teams trouble.
Chase is the Bengals star, making three Pro Bowls in his first three years in the NFL. Higgins and Boyd have been great complementary players. In 2021 and 2022, Higgins had over 1,000 receiving yards. This season, he has 656 but has only played 12 games. As a third option, Boyd has been consistent with over 600 receiving and 55 receptions in the last three seasons.
"We are not going to back down from nobody," CB Kahlef Hailassie said. "Obviously, they got those three guys, but we are going to go out there and play hard. We are going to make plays and try to help the team win."
Which offensive player is going to step up?
With QB Joe Flacco sitting and WR Amari Cooper out with a heel injury, which Browns offensive player will step up? The Browns have young players eager to play and show their skill, but who will stand out?
Sunday is a big game for players working hard at practice and getting in any time their number is called. Unlike the defense, the Browns offense is a big question mark since not as many backup players have played consistently throughout the season. TE David Njoku, WR Elijah Moore and RB Jerome Ford have played every game this season. Cooper has only missed one game this season.
Whoever is playing will go against a Bengals defense that has allowed an average of 382.8 total yards this season, the second worst in the league, according to ESPN. The opportunities should be there, but the Browns will have to execute their game plan and be ready for the physicality.
"Really excited about the group that will go to Cincinnati and play at receiver this week," wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea said. "They have worked so hard and have done everything we've asked them to do, and there's no doubt in my mind they're going to go out there. They're going to try to put all of the preparation that they've done and everything that they've earned over this period from their preparation and their hard work and now be in an opportunity to go play."