KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: 69th meeting. The Battle of Ohio is deadlocked, 34-34. The Bengals won five straight to take the series lead before the Browns won a 51-45 shootout in the second week of the season.
PREDICTION: Browns 24-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: Browns RB Jamal Lewis abused the Bengals for 216 yards in the first meeting, and the Bengals are 0-7 when allowing a 100-yard rusher this season. So while Anderson will certainly drop back and take his shots, Lewis is clearly getting stronger as defenses are getting tired late in the season. ... The Bengals are ranked 24th, scoring touchdowns just 44.9 percent of the time they reach the red zone. That mark has to improve if they hope to keep pace in another shootout. RB DeDe Dorsey is expected to get more touches, but this game will be won or lost on QB Carson Palmer's ability to exploit the Browns' secondary. Watch for him targeting CB Leigh Bodden in the slot against WR Chris Henry.
KEY INJURIES: Browns: LB Antwan Peek (high ankle sprain) could miss his second straight game. Bengals: RB Rudi Johnson (hamstring) is uncertain; RT Willie Anderson (knee) remains out but hopes to play again this season.
FAST FACTS: The Browns clinch a playoff spot with a win or a loss by Tennessee. ... Lewis' 10 rushing TDs is tied for the most by a Brown since Leroy Kelly had 16 in 1968. ... Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh now owns the Bengals' all-time record for receptions in a season with 101.
--CB Leigh Bodden was held from practice Thursday with a back injury. He practiced Wednesday.
--RDE Robaire Smith practiced on a limited basis Thursday. He missed practice Wednesday with a back injury.
--LB Antwan Peek practiced Thursday. It was the first time he was able to work since spraining his right ankle Dec. 9 while playing the Jets. Peek is eager to play in Cincinnati, his hometown. He said 40 friends and family members will be there to watch him play.
--DL Shaun Smith practiced on a limited basis Thursday. He missed practice with a back spasms Wednesday.
--The Browns have reworked the contract of injured center LeCharles Bentley. Bentley signed a six-year, $36 million contract in 2006. He has not played a down for the Browns because of complications from a torn patellar tendon. His new contract expires after next season.
--QB Carson Palmer's 22nd touchdown pass this season gives him 100 for his career in 59 games, the fifth quickest in history to 100. He is a third alternate on the AFC Pro Bowl team.
--RB Rudi Johnson has had a cold-hot season, mostly cold. He had another tough outing at San Francisco, where he ran just seven times for 16 yards and was on the bench for much of the game while Kenny Watson was in the game.
--RB Kenny Watson needs just 84 yards to reach 1,000 from scrimmage. He has 564 yards on 127 carries and 342 yards on 48 receptions.
--TE Reggie Kelly, an excellent blocker, might be finding himself sharing time next season with a more consistent pass receiver and route runner. The Bengals need to give Carson Palmer another threat in the middle of the field.
--WR Chad Johnson, with 1,265 receiving yards, is a first Pro Bowl alternate after making the team for the previous four seasons in a row.
--WR Chris Henry continues to fill in where necessary as the team's third receiver. In five games, his production has waned, though. He has 19 receptions, two for touchdowns, but coach Marvin Lewis said Henry needs to do a better job of getting open in the red zone.
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 101 receptions lead the NFL and established a single-season Bengals franchise record. He was named Tuesday to his first Pro Bowl team.
--CB Johnathan Joseph, like the team, is playing inconsistently. He struggled in coverage at San Francisco, where first-time NFL starting quarterback Shaun Hill was 21-for-28 passing with a touchdown.
--CB Deltha O'Neal lost his starting job to rookie Leon Hall six games ago but, to his credit, continues to play well in situational roles. O'Neal was the most solid cornerback on the field Saturday night at San Francisco.
--DE Robert Geathers collected another sack Saturday night, giving him a team-high 3.5, down from 10.5 in 2006.
--LT Levi Jones was named a third alternate for the AFC Pro Bowl team.
--K Shayne Graham is having another strong season and was named first alternate to the AFC Pro Bowl team. He is 28 of 31 on field goals and perfect on 31 PATs for 115 points.
--RB DeDe Dorsey is a favorite of many Bengals fans, who want to see him on the field more. He was given just two carries against the 49ers and now has rushed for 175 yards on 20 carries. He figures in the Bengals' future offensive and special teams plans.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Rookie left tackle Joe Thomas and left guard Eric Steinbach played well as a tandem the first time the Browns played the Bengals this year, and that was just the second game of the season. They and the entire offensive line are playing even better as the Browns prepare to play the Bengals Sunday in Cincinnati.
Derek Anderson has been sacked only 11 times in 13 starts. Up until now, the fewest sacks allowed were 35 in 2002. The Browns have scored 13 rushing touchdowns -- their highest total in the expansion era.
General manager Phil Savage could have selected Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the likely NFL Rookie of the Year, with the third overall pick. He drafted Thomas instead and would not second guess his decision.
Steinbach, the player many fans thought Butch Davis should have drafted in 2003 when Davis took Jeff Faine instead, played well for four years in Cincinnati before signing with the Browns on the first day of free agency in March. Savage knew exactly what he was getting in Steinbach.
Drafting tackles can be risky.
"Joe Thomas has been a key," Savage said recently. "He's been a lynch pin to that offensive line. He has been a key piece to that front five.
"I think Joe has played better than most people would have expected a rookie left tackle to have played. That has definitely been a boost to us, in particular, the quarterback."
In 1989 the Packers thought they got an anchor on their offensive line for the rest of the millennium when they drafted Tony Mandarich from Michigan State with the second overall pick, one choice after the Cowboys drafted Troy Aikman and one pick before the Lions drafted Barry Sanders. He lasted just three years with the Packers.
More recently, the Raiders used the second pick on Robert Gallery, Steinbach's teammate at Iowa. Gallery is still with the Raiders, but he has bounced along different positions on the line and is now playing left guard.
"I'm a different player than Robert Gallery," Thomas said at the scouting combine in February. "I'm technically sound for an offensive tackle. I have a great work ethic. I study my opponent really hard and I'm a pretty athletic offensive lineman."
Fourteen games into his pro career, Thomas is proving to be exactly what he said. The Browns are 9-5. They can clinch a playoff spot by beating the Bengals and win double-digit games for the first time since 1994.
When Savage decided the Steinbach-Thomas combination is what he wanted, he made a conscious effort to transform the offensive line from one built on big bulldozer type blockers to one quicker and more athletic, similar to what the Broncos have been doing for more than a decade.
Thomas is 6-6, 315 pounds and Steinbach is 6-6, 295 pounds. In 2004 the right guard for the first six games was 6-2, 350-pound Kelvin Garmon, who was built more like a giant pumpkin than a football player.
"Eric and I are hard workers," Thomas said. "I think we're very smart players. We understand the offense. We study our position. We have some natural ability. We communicate well and we get along well off the field. I think that translates to having good communication on the field.
"I think being good athletes, we're able to do some things typical offensive linemen might not do as well. We have good balance that enables us to recover if we do make a wrong step."
Thomas said the philosophy of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski works best with the quick line the Browns have.
From seventh-round draft pick as the 204th player drafted in 2001 to bubble player at training camp in 2002 and 2003, T.J. Houshmandzadeh's journey as an NFL player reached a peak Tuesday when he was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team.
The game will be played Feb. 10 in Honolulu. The Pro Bowl nod is the first Houshmandzadeh, who was a third alternate in last year's voting.
Houshmandzadeh and Cleveland's Braylon Edwards are the backup AFC wide receivers, behind starters Reggie Wayne of Indianapolis and Randy Moss of New England. Houshmandzadeh leads the NFL with a Bengals-record 101 receptions through 14 games, and he has gained 1,028 yards with 11 touchdowns. On Saturday night in the loss at San Francisco, Houshmandzadeh set the franchise's single-season receptions record with 101, besting Carl Pickens' mark of 100 from 1996.
Houshmandzadeh played college ball at Oregon State, with fellow Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson.
"T.J. has worked very hard to earn this honor," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "He has worked through some injuries during the course of the season, and he has been a very consistent performer and producer for us for the last three years."
Houshmandzadeh becomes the seventh Bengals wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl. The other six have been Isaac Curtis (four times), Chad Johnson (four), Cris Collinsworth (three), Carl Pickens (two), Eddie Brown (one) and Chip Myers (one). Additionally, tight end-wide receiver Bob Trumpy was selected to two AFL All-Star games and two Pro Bowls.
Houshmandzadeh scored at least one touchdown in each of the season's first eight games. He became the first Bengal to find the end zone in each of the first eight games of a season, and his streak of eight is the franchise's longest at any point within one season.
His season-opening streak of eight straight games with a score tied for second-longest in NFL history at the start of a schedule.
The Bengals' total of Pro Bowl players could grow. Four Bengals earned alternate status for the AFC team: wide receiver Chad Johnson and kicker Shayne Graham as first alternates, and left tackle Levi Jones and quarterback Carson Palmer as third alternates. Alternates take roster spots if players in front of them are injured or opt out of the game.