CINCINNATI BENGALS (0-3) AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, First Energy Stadium, TV: CBS, Spero Dedes and Adam Archuleta
SERIES HISTORY: 88th regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 48-39. This is a series where home-field advantage truly is important. The Bengals lead the series by nine games, but the Browns have a 24-19 advantage in Cleveland. Yet even with that, the Browns have lost three straight at home to the Bengals.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Browns must start fast and protect rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who comes in having completed 57 of 108 pass attempts for 646 yards. He has thrown three touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 53.2 quarterback rating is 32nd in the league, largely due to his receivers -- they had eight drops last week in a loss to the Colts. Free-agent acquisition Kenny Britt had three receptions on Sunday and now has five for the season. But Britt had one bounce off his hands that was intercepted. Cleveland has shown the ability to come back. The Browns have outscored opponents, 22-6, in the fourth quarter, but they came up short each time. They lost by three points to the Steelers (21-18) and by three points (31-28) to the Colts. The Browns offense averages 323 yards per game, but will be severely tested against the Bengals who welcome back linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
The Bengals defensive leader has finished serving a three-game suspension for an illegal hit on Kansas City Chiefs running back Anthony Sherman in a preseason game on Aug. 19. They could have used him last week in an overtime loss. After struggling to score in their first two games, quarterback Andy Dalton led the Bengals to 21 first-half points against the Green Bay Packers last week. But the offense went into hibernation in the second half and scored only three points in the second half and overtime, and lost 27-24 in overtime. Rookie running back Joe Mixon had 62 of the Bengals' 110 rushing yards against the Packers and looks primed to become the feature tailback. Still, head coach Marvin Lewis was encouraged and now he wants his team to complete the job and Burfict just might be the guy to make sure Lewis gets his wish.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bengals DE Carl Lawson vs. Browns LT Joe Thomas. The rookie Lawson had 2? sacks in last week's loss at Green Bay when he took advantage of being matched up with a backup tackle. No such luck this week, when Lawson will be tested by Thomas, who's in his 11th season and has never missed a snap in a regular-season game.
--Browns QB DeShone Kizer vs. Bengals defensive line. Cincinnati's pass rush has gotten a boost from rookie Carl Lawson. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is back to further disrupt things. Kizer averages more than three seconds per release. He'll need to get rid of the ball quicker to escape the Bengals' rush.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--Doubtful: S Derron Smith (ankle)
--Questionable: G Trey Hopkins (knee)
--Out: LB Jamie Collins (concussion)
Browns safety Jabrill Peppers. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has drawn criticism for lining up Peppers 25 yards deep on passing situations. Peppers might play a little closer to the line of scrimmage this week to help with pass coverage on Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. That said, Peppers, a 2017 first-round draft choice from Michigan, is making rookie mistakes and could be targeted by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
Bengals QB ANDY DALTON threw two touchdown passes and avoided throwing an interception for a 124.1 quarterback rating last week. In the past four meetings against Cleveland, he has thrown nine touchdowns and has not thrown an interception. WR A.J. Green has 12-plus receiving yards and a touchdown in each of past two games against Cleveland. RB JEREMY HILL has 636 scrimmage yards (127.2 per game) with five rushing touchdowns in the last five games against Cleveland. Rookie RB Joe Mixon had career-high 101 scrimmage yards (62 rushing, 39 receiving) against the Packers in Week 3. CB William Jackson scored on a 75-yard interception return last week against the Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. ... QB DeShone Kizer passed for 242 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 44 yards and another touchdown last week. He's the only quarterback in the NFL with 600-plus pass yards (646) and two-plus rushing touchdowns. RB Isaiah Crowell ran for 113 yards last time the two teams met. RB Duke Johnson compiled 104 yards (23 rushing, 81 receiving) from scrimmage and a touchdown last week. He leads team with 11 catches and ranks third among running backs with 160 receiving yards. He has 1,208 receiving yards since entering league in 2015, second among running backs.
PREDICTION: Marvin Lewis and Hugh Jackson are very familiar with each other after Jackson served under Lewis and mentored QB Andy Dalton. The Bengals have too much offensive firepower, get back LB Vontaze Burfict and have won five straight against the Browns.
OUR PICK: Bengals, 34-24