KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
SERIES: 60th meeting -- The Cleveland Browns lead the "Battle of Ohio" 31-28. The Browns lead 19-10 at home. The Bengals have lost three in a row in the series and are 4-4 since the "new" Browns returned as an expansion team in 1999. Both teams were founded by the late Paul Brown.
2003 RANKINGS: Bengals: offense 18th (22nd rush, 14th pass); defense 14th (28th rush, 4th pass). Browns: offense 31st (27th rush, 27th pass); defense 18th (30th rush, 3rd pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The teams have split the past eight games. In Cincinnati's four wins, RB Corey Dillon has rushed for an average of 159.3 yards. In Cleveland's four wins, Dillon has been held to an average of 76.0 yards. Dillon is battling a groin strain, but it's clear his availability is crucial for the Bengals. The Browns have their own injury concerns as QB Kelly Holcomb has a hairline fracture in his right leg, meaning backup Tim Couch will get the start. Cincinnati's defense has improved under coach Marvin Lewis, and the Bengals have the veteran receivers to stop the Browns if they can't get their running game untracked.
FAST FACTS: Bengals: The team is 0-3 for the fourth time in five years and has lost seven consecutive AFC North games. ... They have not led a game at any point this season. ... WR Chad Johnson is on pace for 1,616 receiving yards. Browns: They have won the past three meetings. ... The defense has not allowed a touchdown in eight red zone possessions. WR Kevin Johnson has three 100-yard receiving performances in his past three games against the Bengals, and has 44 receptions in eight career games against them.
PREDICTED SCORE: Bengals 20, Browns 17
RB Corey Dillon (groin) practiced and remains probable for the Browns on Sunday.
TE Matt Schobel (hamstring) remains doubtful.
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) is out for another week, the fourth game in a row.
LB Riall Johnson (calf) is out and probably won't return until after the Bengals Week 6 bye.
QB Jon Kitna continues to receive coach Marvin Lewis' unwavering support as the starter.
WR Dennis Northcutt returned to practice Thursday. He missed the game against the 49ers and practiced Wednesday with a hairline fracture of a rib.
LT Barry Stokes also practiced on Thursday and Friday. He missed practice Wednesday while watching with his right foot in a walking boot. He was not on the injury report.
CB Michael Lehan is questionable with a pulled hamstring.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Bengals will see quarterback Tim Couch for the seventh time, they learned Thursday. Because of the leg injury to Kelly Holcomb, Couch will make his 52nd career start and seventh against Cincinnati.
There is an intangible that makes Couch a dangerous opponent - he's playing to win his job back from Holcomb, who's out with a hairline fracture of the right fibula.
"It's a big day for him. It's a big day for us," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after Thursday's practice of facing Couch. "He's fighting for his job. I'm sure he feels a lot of pressure to perform well, just like we do. He's getting the opportunity to prove he's the guy."
The Bengals are 0-3.
Couch, who has started 51 of 52 NFL games since the Browns drafted him No. 1 overall in 1999, learned of the decision early Thursday afternoon from Browns coach Butch Davis.
Couch is no mystery to the Bengals. He has gone 3-3 in six career starts against the Bengals with 1,287 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Bengals defensive end Justin Smith and defensive back Kevin Kaesviharn have each played against Couch.
"It doesn't matter who's back there," said Smith, the team's top sack threat who's still looking for his first this year. "We've got to win and get (the quarterback) on the ground."
Couch, Kaesviharn said, does nothing out of the ordinary.
"Nothing we're not used to seeing," he said. "So it's not like anything we have to prepare especially for him. We're just going to run our game plan."
Tim Couch will start against the Bengals on Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium, coach Butch Davis announced Thursday. Kelly Holcomb, the starter in the first three games, is sidelined with a broken right fibula and a sprained left ankle.
Davis held out hope Holcomb would start despite the injuries because Holcomb has a high pain threshold. On Wednesday, Davis said he would hold off making a decision until Sunday, but he changed his mind and decided to name Couch the starter before practice Thursday. Davis said Holcomb did not make enough progress Wednesday and Thursday to postpone the decision.
"He's very comfortable back in the role," Davis said. "He looked sharp. Tim has been a starter. He knows this isn't about personal statistics. It's about helping the Browns win."
Couch last played in the 16th game of the 2002 season. His right fibula was broken in the first half against the Falcons. Holcomb finished that game and passed for 429 yards and three touchdowns the next week against the Steelers in a playoff game. That was the springboard to him winning the starting job in training camp.
Holcomb is expected to return as the starter next week against the Steelers, but for now Couch is back in the saddle against the 0-3 Bengals.
"Anytime you get a chance to play on Sunday, you want to play well," Couch said. "Everyone sees what you do. You want to put on a good performance."