KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS (Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon)
SERIES: 71st regular-season meeting. The Bengals-Browns series is tied at 35 victories each. The Browns lead 21-13 as the home team, but the Bengals have won three of their five Lake Erie trips under head coach Marvin Lewis. Overall, the Bengals have won six of the last eight games in the series. But the Browns are going for a 2008 sweep, having won 20-12 at Cincinnati on Sept. 28.
PREDICTION: Bengals 20-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals know the Browns are going to struggle to score points, so the focus for Cincinnati's offense should be ball control. RB Cedric Benson will get plenty of touches against Cleveland's run defense allowing 147.4 yards per game. The Browns have just 17 sacks, but Bengals QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has been dropped 37 times and Cleveland wants him on the run when attacking its opportunistic secondary. ... The Browns haven't scored an offensive touchdown in four games, and QB Ken Dorsey will make his first home start for Cleveland minus TEs Kellen Winslow and Steve Heiden. That's a significant problem for a quarterback who lacks the arm strength to attack vertically, although Dorsey did find WR Braylon Edwards five times for 102 yards last Monday night.
KEY INJURIES: Bengals: LT Levi Jones (hamstring) is expected to miss his fifth consecutive game. Browns: Heiden (knee) and Winslow (ankle) are out.
NEED TO KNOW: Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh needs eight receptions to reach 100 for the second consecutive season. ... The Browns defense has 12 interceptions the past five games.
--S Chinedum Ndukwe (foot), a starter, practiced fully Thursday and could play Sunday at Cleveland.
--LB Rashad Jeanty (shin), a starter, was limited in practice Thursday. He is the starter at SSL.
--LT Levi Jones (hamstring) did not practice Thursday. Rookie Anthony Collins would make his fifth consecutive start.
--CB David Jones (knee), another starter, did not practice Thursday.
--RB Kenny Watson (hamstring) was limited Thursday.
--RG Bobbie Williams (toe) practiced fully Thursday after missing practice Wednesday. He is the starter.
--LT Anthony Collins (knee) returned to full practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday.
--C Eric Ghiaciuc (illness) returned to practice fully Thursday after missing Wednesday.
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hand) practiced fully.
--TE Steve Heiden underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL and a torn MCL in his right knee Thursday.
--P Dave Zastudil has tendonitis in his right knee and did not practice Thursday.
--LB Leon Williams has a sprained knee and did not practice.
--LG Eric Steinbach (back) sat out practice.
--DL Shaun Smith sat out practice with a calf injury.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer hopes to regain almost 100 percent of his throwing strength by next week. And based on the results of his practice sessions under those full-strength conditions, he expects to make a decision on whether or not he will need surgery to repair his throwing elbow.
"There is somewhat of a timeline," Palmer said Thursday. "I don't want to wait too long. Within the next couple weeks I'll know. I don't want to wait until April, May and miss out on what's going to be going on. Within the next couple weeks, we should know. I'll have another MRI, and we'll check it out."
Palmer originally injured the elbow when his arm was grabbed as he was throwing a pass against the New York Giants Sept. 21. He has not played since an Oct. 5 game against Dallas.
"I could tell in the first quarter of the Dallas game that something wasn't right," Palmer said. "I've been throwing a football since I was four. When something doesn't feel right, you know. Something unusual is going on in your arm. I knew it right away."
Since then, Palmer has been slowly recuperating. He said Thursday that he has increased his throwing regimen to four times per week and can throw beyond 55 yards. When he's feels 90 to 100 percent strong, which he anticipates next week, he hopes to throw into the 70-yard range in terms of distance.
Ideally, Palmer said, he will be able to throw crisp timing routes to receivers next week. Such practice sessions could be crucial in helping him decide about surgery, which he would rather avoid if possible.
"I think I should be able to know just throwing routes to receivers," Palmer said, "and asking them, 'Do you feel like the ball is getting there quick? Does it feel like it's hanging in the air a little long?'"
He has so far trusted the Bengals medical and training staff during his rehabilitation period, and that everything they have told him about regaining his strength has proved to be accurate. Of the five doctors from whom Palmer solicited medical opinions, the majority told him not to have the surgery. But it will be hard for Palmer to make a final decision on that matter until he can throw with more velocity.
Too late to make a difference this season, rookie tight end Martin Rucker will get a chance in the last two games to prove he can be a factor next season and for years to come.
Rucker will be the second-team tight end behind Darnell Dinkins on the depth chart Sunday when the Browns host the Bengals. It isn't so much that Rucker has improved as it is he and Dinkins are the last tight ends standing.
Kellen Winslow Jr. will miss his third straight game with a sprained ankle. Steve Heiden suffered a major knee injury Monday night in Philadelphia. He might not be ready for the opener next year; at this point there is no way to know.
"Martin has made strides since he's been here," coach Romeo Crennel said. "He's going to get an opportunity to make more in the next couple games. He's working a lot harder. I think he recognizes more now then he did at the beginning of the year.
"He's working with his routes, his blocking and also his command of the offense. I think one of his strong suits is his ability to catch the football and so all of that was evident in practice."
The Browns gave Dallas their 2009 third-round draft choice for the Cowboys' fourth-round pick in 2008 so they could draft Rucker as insurance in case Winslow held out or was injured. Winslow was in training camp from the start, but he will miss his fifth game Sunday.
Rucker caught four passes in the preseason opener against the Jets. His knee was injured in the next practice. He needed six weeks to recover, and that put him behind in his development. He has one catch.
"I looked at the guys in front of me as two great tight ends to learn from," Rucker said. "I've been watching more film and diving into the playbook even more than I was before. Hopefully, I'll be able to pick up the slack."
Rucker said he never had knee problems in high school or college.
The news is not as encouraging for the Browns' other fourth-round choice from 2008, linebacker Beau Bell.
Bell had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Thursday. He had surgery on his right knee in training camp. The Browns expect a full recovery.
Bell is a fourth-round draft choice from UNLV. He did not play on defense in any of the first 14 games and now he is on injured reserve.
When Bell was drafted, he was expected to make an immediate impact on special teams. But he appeared in only four games and all on special teams. He made two tackles. The highlight of his season was forcing a fumble on a kickoff in Jacksonville. Josh Cribbs recovered.
"I have to prove myself (next year) and show people I know how to play football," Bell said.