The Browns head into their Week 18 matchup against the Bengals in a unique position. They are 11-5 on the season and have clinched their spot in the playoffs. However, they also have a chance to tie most wins in team history since the 1986 team with a 12th win.
So, let's look at three keys to Sunday's game.
Allow QB Jeff Driskel to find his way in the Browns offense
The Browns will start their fifth quarterback this season when Jeff Driskel takes the field at the helm of the offense on Sunday. Driskel was first signed to the active roster on Dec. 29, and will start Week 18 against the Bengals as the Browns rest QB Joe Flacco.
With the Browns placing rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson on injured reserve, having the eight-year pro in Driskel on the roster as a potential backup for the playoffs is the depth they need for that position.
Sunday's game will give the Browns a chance to see how Driskel operates in a game in their offense. HC Kevin Stefanski said that they do not have to change the game plan much. They make small adjusts to the skill set and strengths of players, but their overall system and scheme does not change. Driskel has been through a week of practices with Cleveland, trying to quickly acclimate to a new team and new scheme.
"He's done a nice job," Stefanski said of Driskel. "Very good understanding of the offense. Seamless in that regard. Does a good job calling the plays, has a good understanding of all the concepts that we're calling, run game, pass game, that type of thing. So, been impressed."
Have a strong defensive showing on the road
Throughout this season, the Browns have had their ups and downs with success defensively on the road. They are 3-4 in road games this season, and some defensive struggles have played a role in that overall record.
While they will be without key defensive players like DE Myles Garrett (shoulder, hamstring), CB Greg Newsome II (knee) and S Juan Thornhill (calf) on Sunday, there is still potential for both the front seven and the secondary to showcase the standard this group has set for themselves on that side of the ball.
When the Browns faced the Texans in Week 16 in Houston, they showcased that level of defensive dominance they've played with at home. The Browns will need to play to that same standard not only this week in Cincinnati, but also in the first round of the playoffs. Playing on the road to close out the regular season can be an opportunity to build that momentum heading into the playoffs.
Defensively, the Browns will have their hands full with the Bengals receivers in WR Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Chase leads the Bengals with 1,197 receiving yards this season and seven touchdowns. QB Jake Browning has thrown for 1,780 yards this season, completing 153 of 219 passes in eight games.
The Browns defense has had a number of players step up throughout the season as they have dealt with injuries, especially in the secondary. That will be critical once again on Sunday against the Bengals receiving corps and limiting the passing game, as well as to build on a strong defensive performance on the road.
Young players and backups excel in their roles
The Browns enter their final regular season game with a luxury to rest some of their starters before the playoffs. By doing so, it opens the door for some of their younger players and backups who have not seen as many game reps to get the necessary in-game reps before the playoffs and their overall experience.
Those who step in on Sunday have to take advantage of their opportunities. Throughout the season, as the Browns have dealt with injuries, they have lived by the mentality of next man up. They prepare each week as if they are going to play in that particular game. For a handful of guys on both sides of the ball, this Week 18 matchup against the Bengals will be that chance.
"I told those guys this morning, this is not the time to let up, it's the time to double down," OC Alex Van Pelt said on Thursday. "These opportunities are special, and you don't know when you get your next one. […] It's finding that happy medium and let's do our job. Let's just do our job. Execute one play at a time."