Bengals vs. Browns: 1PM EST

The Battle of Ohio is joined this afternoon, with the Bengals eyeing the AFC North title. Join Barry, JJ, and The Coach on the Orange & Brown Countdown show at 10:15 on SportsTalkNetwork.com. Starting at 1PM, we'll have the usual gametime gathering in the Bernie's Insiders Chatroom. See you there, I hope!

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET

GAMEDATE: 12/11/05

SURFACE: Grass

TV: CBS, Bill Macatee, Rich Gannon

PRE-GAME SHOW: Orange and Brown Countdown at 10AM (approx) on SportsTalkNetwork.com. Click here for the audio stream to listen or click here for the video stream to watch (Windows Media Player required). Call the show at (216)-539-1159 or email at email@sportstalknetwork.com.

CHAT ROOM: Join us in the Bernie's Insiders chat room for the 10AM pre-game show or during the game.

SERIES: 65th meeting. The Browns lead the series 33-31. The Browns have held their own against the Bengals in the expansion era. Since losing four of five games from 1999 through the first of two games in 2001, the Browns have beaten the Bengals five of eight times.

2005 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 22nd (19th rush, 19th pass); defense 16th (27th rush, 10th pass). Bengals: offense 1st (12th rush, 4th pass); defense 28th (24th rush, 24th pass)

PREDICTION: Bengals 27-16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Rookie QB Charlie Frye makes his second consecutive start for the Browns, but this time will be without injured WR Braylon Edwards, who had already emerged as one of the team's few offensive playmakers. The quandary for the Browns is the Bengals will stack the box against RB Reuben Droughns and then blitz Frye often, but if Cleveland max protects the passer then it has fewer options running downfield. It's a dangerous matchup for Frye, who faces a defense leading the league with 26 interceptions. And Cleveland has a very small margin for error considering how well Cincinnati's offense is playing. RB Rudi Johnson rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown in the season opener, and while the Browns have been slowly improving defensively they will struggle to contain the Bengals' balance. If QB Carson Palmer is able to set up the play-action pass, the Browns' corners will have trouble sticking with WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

FAST FACTS: Browns: Droughns is on pace for a franchise-record 321 rushing attempts (Jim Brown, 305 in 1961). Bengals: Can clinch the AFC North title with a victory and a Pittsburgh loss Sunday. ... QB Carson Palmer seeks to become the first player in NFL history to record 12 games with a passer rating of at least 100.0 in one season.

BROWNS PERSONNEL NEWS

  • RB Lee Suggs has not had a carry since preseason, but if Reuben Droughns (knee) can't play, Suggs may get the bulk of the carries. The biggest game of Suggs' career came two years ago when he ran for 186 yards at the end of his rookie season.
     
  • WR Dennis Northcutt returns to the starting lineup with Braylon Edwards out for the season with a knee injury. Northcutt has had a very disappointing season, with 26 catches.
     
  • NT Ethan Kelley started two of the past three games in place of Jason Fisk, but Kelley is now finished for the season with torn knee cartilage. Kelley figures in the team's future at the spot, though.
     
  • OG Joe Andruzzi is listed as questionable and has missed the past three games. Andruzzi appears no closer to playing Sunday than he has the past three weeks.


BENGALS PERSONNEL NEWS

  • DT Bryan Robinson (foot) was downgraded Thursday to out for the game Sunday at Pittsburgh.
     
  • DT Shaun Smith is expected to make his third consecutive start in place of Bryan Robinson, whom Smith considers a mentor. Robinson has a foot injury.
     
  • LB Brian Simmons (hip) is probable. He did not practice Thursday.
     
  • DE Justin Smith (elbow) is probable. He did practice Thursday.
     
  • WR Tab Perry (knee) is probable but did not practice Thursday.
     
  • RB Rudi Johnson (knee) is probable but did return to practice Thursday.
     
  • DL Carl Powell (neck) returned to practice Thursday and remained probable.
     
  • LB/DE David Pollack saw his most extensive playing time Sunday at Pittsburgh. He finished with two tackles and one sack, upping his total to 2.5, second on the team to Justin Smith's 4.5. Pollack estimated that he played 30 plays and appears to be rounding into shape after suffering a knee injury in the Oct. 23 Pittsburgh game. He also had a 20-day contract holdout and missed training camp. He played primarily in the third-down defense at Pittsburgh. He has 24 total tackles. "I go in the situations I'm put in. We have so many good players on defense. I know most of my stuff now," he said. "I was having a lot of fun. Anytime you play, you have fun. At 9-3, shoot, how can you not."

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Browns: Reuben Droughns missed Wednesday's practice and was limited Thursday by a strained knee.

Droughns hurt the knee during the game in which he ended the Browns' 20-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher.

But in the third period of Sunday's loss to Jacksonville, mammoth defensive tackle Marcus Stroud fell on Droughns' knee.

"My leg got stuck up under his body, so you can imagine what that felt like," Droughns said.

Droughns said he would play Sunday, but it remains to be seen how effective he can be after a limited week of practice.

Bengals: Cincinnati's tight ends had their best collective game Sunday at Pittsburgh.

Reggie Kelly had three receptions and a touchdown, and Tony Stewart added one catch. More important, the tight ends -- especially Kelly and Matt Schobel -- lined up as H-backs in the backfield. Kelly saw extensive work as the H-back in the no-huddle offense, which the Bengals ran without a fullback but with three wide receivers.

"I was just glad they had the confidence in me to throw me the ball," Kelly said of his touchdown, his first since September 2003.

Sometimes maligned for their lack of receptions, the tight ends are nonetheless appreciated by their teammates -- especially quarterback Carson Palmer -- for the unsung role they play.

"They are extremely important," Palmer said. "We run a lot of stuff with them blocking. They don't catch a ton of balls, but they help get guys open by stretching defenses and blocking downfield."

Collectively, Kelly (11), Schobel (11) and Stewart (two) have 24 receptions for 191 yards and two touchdowns.

"A lot of times we don't get much of the credit," Schobel said. "But just winning, the most success we've had as a team, if you don't take satisfaction out of that, then you're in the wrong game"
 


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