It has been a disappointing season for the Ohio teams in 2019. The Browns enter Week 17 on a two-game losing streak, sitting at 6-9 and out of the playoffs despite lofty preseason expectations. The 1-14 Bengals have already locked up the No. 1 pick in the 2020 Draft and will have the league's worst record at the end of the year.
For the Bengals, it could be an offseason of massive change. When you hold the No. 1 pick, the obvious thought is that your franchise will be drafting a quarterback, which could make Sunday the final game of Andy Dalton's Bengals career. Dalton holds numerous franchise records for the Bengals and led them to multiple playoff appearances, but this could be his swan song in the orange and black, and there is little doubt he would want to end his Cincinnati career with a big win.
The Browns, however, would love to finish the year on a positive note by beating the Bengals and sweeping the Battle of Ohio for the second straight season. It would mark the first time the Browns had swept the Bengals in consecutive years since 2001-02. A win would also give the Browns a 4-2 record in the AFC North, which would be the team's best record in the AFC North in franchise history. Those are things that the Browns can take into the offseason to try and build some positive momentum headed into 2020, which is important.
With that being said, let's look at the winning mix to achieve just that in Week 17 against the Bengals.
1. Feed Nick Chubb and lock up the rushing title
Chubb has the been the brightest of bright spots for the Browns this year and enters Week 17 with 1,453 yards rushing, most in the NFL. He holds a 92-yard cushion over Christian McCaffrey, and I think that getting the ball into Chubb's hands early in often will lead to both a team win and an incredible accolade.
In the team's first meeting with the Bengals, Chubb didn't even have 10 yards rushing in the first half. The Browns opened the third quarter with a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that featured nothing but five runs and one incomplete pass. The biggest play was a 57-yard scamper by Chubb to set up Kareem Hunt's 3-yard touchdown run.
Chubb would finish the game with 15 carries for 106 yards. I would like to see 20-plus carries and even more yards Sunday. In his only career appearance at Paul Brown Stadium, Chubb carried the ball 28 times for 84 yards and a touchdown, while adding three catches for 44 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown grab in the Browns' big victory over the Bengals. It should also be noted that in the Browns' three-game winning streak earlier this year, Chubb carried the ball 20-plus times in each game and averaged 105 yards rushing.
Let's give it to Chubb 20-plus times Sunday against a Bengals team that is allowing 116 yards rushing per game to running backs (fifth-most in the NFL) on 4.7 yards per carry and enjoy the results. A 100-yard day for Chubb should lead directly to a Browns win and lock up the 2019 NFL rushing title, which he absolutely deserves.
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Bengals Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey
2. Lock Down Tyler Boyd
In the matchup to watch, I profiled one of the stars of the Bengals' offense, Joe Mixon. Mixon, however, is not a one man Wolfpack. Nay, he has formed a pretty dynamic duo with WR Tyler Boyd.
After posting 1,028 yards receiving last year to lead the Bengals, Boyd is on pace for an even bigger 2019. He enters Week 17 with 987 yards, just 13 shy of 1,000 and 41 shy of a new career high. If Boyd reaches the 1,000-yard milestone Sunday, he will join Chad Johnson, A.J. Green. Cris Collinsworth, Carl Pickens and T.J. Houshmandzadeh as the only receivers with multiple 1,000-yard seasons in Bengals history.
Boyd's ability to produce when the team leans so heavily on Mixon is also quite impressive. If Boyd (13 yards) and Mixon (25 yards) both get what they need to reach 1,000 yards on the year, they will be only the second duo in Bengals history to accomplish that feat and the first with different last names. The other was WR Chad Johnson and RB Rudi Johnson, who both topped 1,000 yards in three straight years from 2004-2006.
Boyd enters Week 17 red hot after catching nine passes for a season-high 128 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins. Boyd has now scored four touchdowns in his last five games and has two 100-yard efforts to boot. In the Week 14 meeting against the Browns, Boyd hauled in five of his six targets for a team-high 75 yards. Last year at Paul Brown Stadium, Boyd caught seven of his eight targets for 85 yards and a touchdown.
The Browns have done an excellent job against opposing receivers all year long, but especially in the second half of the season. The Browns have only allowed two wide receiver touchdowns in the last seven games and no receiver has scored against them since Week 13. In fact, only James Washington of the Steelers is the only wide receiver to produce 100-yards against the Browns in the last 11 games, as the back-end of the Browns defense has been on lockdown mode. Continuing all of these good trends against Boyd will lead to another victory over the Bengals.
3. Defensive domination in the red zone, again
In the first meeting with the Browns, Cincinnati dominated in many statistical categories. The Bengals out-gained the Browns with 451 yards of offense to just 333. They generated 27 first downs compared to 17 for the Browns and possessed the ball for nearly 35 minutes compared to 25 for Cleveland. They also won the turnover battle 2-1, and yet, they lost the game.
The main reason the Browns beat the Bengals in this game came down to what happened when Cincinnati moved into Browns territory. On the very first possession of the game, the Bengals marched down the field and into the red zone but were forced to kick a 34-yard field goal after they were stopped on third-and-3 at the 6-yard line.
On their next trip into Browns territory, the Bengals would get down to the Browns 18-yard line before a Sheldon Richardson sack would force a 44-yard field goal. The Bengals would get a 1-yard touchdown run from Mixon on their next trip into Cleveland territory, but it would be their only touchdown on the day.
In the second half, the Bengals would drive all the way down to the Browns 2-yard line and have first-and-goal. Another sack by Larry Ogunjobi and Bryan Cox would force the Bengals back to the 10-yard line and lead to a 28-yard field goal.
Finally, the Browns would make another great defensive stand deep in the red zone with 7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter to really seal the victory. The Bengals would had first-and-goal at the Browns' 7-yard line but would be stopped on four straight plays and have to turn the ball over on downs.
For the game, the Bengals made five trips into the Browns red zone and ended up with one touchdown, three field goals and one turnover on downs, which totaled just 16 points. The Browns, by comparison, had three red zone trips on the afternoon and converted two touchdowns and one field goal for 17 points. That is spectacular red zone defense by the Browns, and if the Bengals get down there again Sunday, they need to lock it up like they did Week 14.