The Bengals have an outside shot at the No. 1 seed in the AFC as they travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns on Sunday. All Cincy needs for this to happen is a victory, a Titans loss, a Chiefs loss, and either a Patriots loss or tie or a Bills win. Of course, they'll already know if that's possible by kickoff because the Chiefs play on Saturday afternoon and most likely will win in Denver against the Broncos.
Between those long odds and injuries, these AFC North rivals will face off with a pair of backup quarterbacks.
These two last played back in Week 9 with the Browns winning 41-16 in Cincinnati. That came less than a week after Odell Beckham Jr. was sent away for poor behavior. Joe Burrow had a miserable game with no touchdown passes and two interceptions while Nick Chubb rumbled for 137 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries. That was one of the high points for the Browns, who are now sitting at 7-9 and out of the playoffs once again. The latest loss was 26-14 in Pittsburgh on Monday night when Baker Mayfield struggled once again.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are riding high with a three-game winning streak after beating Kansas City 34-31. Burrow threw for 446 yards while Ja'Marr Chase caught 266 of them. Of course, they needed to do all that since the run game failed to produce once again. Defensively, Cincy took away Patrick Mahomes' deep ball and made him matriculate the ball down the field. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill weren't able to break any long runs, and it certainly hampered KC.
Cincinnati (10-6) at Cleveland (7-9)
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 9 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Browns -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who is playing? (Browns edition)
Baker Mayfield has already been ruled out of the contest as he's dealt with various ailments all season long and is set to undergo surgery on Jan. 19 to repair a torn labrum on his non-throwing shoulder. He looked a bit run-down on Monday night, and with this contest not meaning a darn thing, it was an easy call. Nick Chubb was tragically underused versus Pittsburgh, but head coach Kevin Stefanski said that he was dealing with a rib injury, so I'd be surprised if he suited up for this one. Several defensive players went down with injuries on Monday, including cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. Anyone with any sort of ailment may be out on Sunday.
2. Who is playing? (Bengals edition)
As mentioned earlier, Cincy will know by Sunday if it can get the No. 1 seed and the only bye in the AFC. If Kansas City wins on Saturday, then it'll be interesting to see who suits up for the Bengals and if the starters play, how much. Joe Mixon tested positive for COVID-19 and is out for the game. This comes after a couple of other players did so as well. Burrow, who exited last week's win with a sore knee, told reporters on Wednesday that he would rest for the playoffs. And if I was the Bengals, I'd rest anyone who didn't have to play because any sort of playoff run will not occur without certain players in the lineup.
Entering the season, everyone was touting the Browns' defense, and they certainly did their part by holding teams to 319.6 yards per contest. The problems came on the road, as the group allowed nearly 75 yards more than they allow at home. Cincy ranks 18th in total defense at 349.3 yards per game. The Bengals actually were better on the road than they were at home, although the numbers could be skewed a bit because they had much weaker opponents away from home while the Packers and Chiefs went to Cincinnati.
This is a hard game to pick because it's hard to know who is playing. The Browns looked ready for the season to end on Monday in Pittsburgh, and now they have to come home to play a Bengals team that may have nothing to play for. It's Brandon Allen vs. Case Keenum so I'm suggesting you watch something different.
Prediction: Bengals 19, Browns 16
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.