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Week 15 Preview: Bengals at Browns

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Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1) at Cleveland Browns (7-6)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Thom Brennaman, David Diehl, Laura Okmin

*Keys to the game: The Browns rolled the Bengals 24-3 in Cincinnati last month on the strength of 269 yards and a pair of touchdowns from QB Brian Hoyer. But Hoyer through one touchdown against eight picks over the ensuing four games and now it’s the Johnny Manziel Show.

The Browns did not install a new playbook in a week to full take advantage of Manziel’s skillset. Coach Mike Pettine referred to an “inventory” that the team carried during training camp and said certain parts of the playbook will be highlighted. Bottom line: the Browns need to get the undersized Manziel on the move and allow him to make plays with his feet. With the good no doubt will come the bad, but the Browns can mitigate the risk factor if RBs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell can slowly churn out positive yardage as they did by combining for 135 yards on ground in the first meeting — albeit at just 3.6 yards per carry.

Quarterback questions are quietly concerning on the other sideline as well. Bengals QB Andy Dalton has been the leading passer in a game just four times this season and he enters with a modest 15 TD passes. His passer rating in the first meeting … 2.0 — and no, the decimal place isn’t in the wrong spot.

Dalton does have a healthier A.J. Green, who caught just three of 10 targets for 23 yards in the first meeting. But the offense has continued to be spotty due to Dalton’s inconsistency and to some untimely drops of late.

*Matchup to watch – Bengals RCB Leon Hall vs. Browns WR Josh Gordon: Gordon had fleeting chemistry with Hoyer, including catching two of seven targets for 15 yards and a critical late drop last week, and it will be interesting to see how he meshes with Manziel. Hall is a solid veteran who was part of the blown coverage on Martavis Bryant’s 94-yard TD last week.

*Player spotlight – Manziel: It’s the moment the NFL world has been waiting for. Even coach Rich Pettine joked that people were expecting to see Manziel at the Cavs game Tuesday night when he was crunching the game plan at team headquarters. Boom or bust, it promises to be fascinating entertainment.

*Fast facts: Manziel is the 22nd different starting quarterback for the Browns since the team re-entered the league in 1999.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

With three games remaining and their playoff hopes hanging by the string, the Browns turn to Manziel for a spark – or at the very least, serious evaluation. He’s at home, but facing a veteran defense that will cash in on any erratic throws from the rookie.

*Our pick: Bengals 23-20


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