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NFL Preview - Cleveland (4-5) at Cincinnati (6-4)



By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - Look out world, it's the Cleveland Browns.

A franchise with just three plus-.500 seasons and two playoff appearances since a streak of five straight postseason berths ended in 1989, the Browns have reached Week 11 of 2013 in the midst of a crowded chase for the AFC's final wild card playoff slot.

Cleveland trails the conference's current sixth seed - the New York Jets - by a single game and will face coach Rex Ryan and Co. in a potentially important Week 16 game.

But first things first, which means a Sunday afternoon chance to match last season's five victories and sweep the Cincinnati Bengals in a season series for the first time since 2002.

"It's been a while," nose tackle Phil Taylor said. "Everybody talking about Cleveland this, the mistake on the lake, all this other stuff. It's time for a change. We're tired of losing around here. We've got the talent in here to go all the way to the top, we've just got to get it done."

The Browns have lost at least 10 games in nine of the last 10 seasons.

The most recent part of the 2013 renaissance is thanks to vagabond veteran Jason Campbell, who's started the last two games - a Week 8 loss to Kansas City and a Week 9 defeat of Baltimore. Cleveland was off on its bye last weekend.

Campbell, who's started games for three other NFL teams - Washington, Oakland and Chicago - has completed 63.3 percent of 71 passes for 555 yards, five TDs and no interceptions in his two starts with the Browns. Cleveland was 0-4 in games started by Brandon Weeden and 3-0 in games started by Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, while Weeden, the 22nd pick in the 2012 draft, recovered from a thumb injury only to lose the starting gig to Campbell.

"You saw him from a leadership standpoint," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. "The calmness out there, the ability in that final drive to make plays when that was crunch time and in a critical part in the game and just his presence with our younger guys.

"What he's doing is really giving us a life."

His favorite targets have been recent thorns in the side of the Bengals.

Wide receiver Josh Gordon has seven receptions for 170 yards and a TD in two games against Cincinnati, while Jordan Cameron blitzed the Bengals for 10 catches, 91 yards and a TD in Cleveland's 17-6 home victory on Sept. 29..

Another Browns win would get Cleveland within a game of the North Division- leading Bengals, who've seen a 6-2 start evaporate after consecutive overtime losses at Miami and Baltimore - which made them the 16th team in history to suffer two such defeats.

Following Cleveland's Week 4 win, Cincinnati won four in a row.

"We pushed things forward very positively," coach Marvin Lewis said. "Now we've dug a little bit of a hole and we've got to climb out and play better this week against the Browns."

The Bengals trailed Miami, 17-3, before losing in the extra session when quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked in the end zone for a game-ending safety. Similarly, they trailed Baltimore, 17-0, at halftime before rallying to tie in the final seconds. Also similarly, they were beaten in the overtime period by a field goal.

Rookie Giovani Bernard has three TDs in the two prolonged losses and could ratchet up his numbers against a Cleveland team that allowed an average of 121 yards per game against Reggie Bush, Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles in its last three games.

Bernard had 37 yards in the first meeting in September, while wide receiver A.J. Green had seven catches for 51 yards.

Dalton's QB rating has plummeted to 53.8 over the last two games and he completed just 54.7 percent of his passes - down 32 points from his season- long mark of 86.7.

"We know what we have in front of us," cornerback Terence Newman said. "We just have to win some football games."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Campbell staying super.

Long criticized during an NFL career that's featured moments of brilliance followed by moments of utter ineptitude, the 31-year-old Campbell has leaned far more toward the former through three appearances with the Browns -- completing more than 60 percent of his throws and maintaining a 5-to-0 ratio of TDs to interceptions. If he maintains that level, the Browns transform from afterthought to playoff worthy.

Carry the load.

The Bengals found out just how good Cleveland defends the run (sixth-best in the league, 98.2 yards per game) when the teams met the first time and Cincinnati was held to 63 ground yards.

That number needs to change this time around to give Dalton more room to maneuver and get the ball to his corps of capable receivers. That means a big role from Bernard, who carried just 10 times in the first matchup and never went for more than six yards on any attempt.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Browns are a great story and Campbell could make it even better if he continues his recent run and gets them to .500 and able to prolong the playoff talk.

But the Bengals are better on paper and, if they'd gotten even one of the two recent OT losses, this game would feel a lot more one-sided. It should play that way nonetheless, with Dalton re-finding his groove and Campbell reverting to typical form.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Bengals 20, Browns 14

11/14 12:58:59 ET


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