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Five things to watch: Bengals vs. Browns

QB Joe Burrow prepares to throw the ball during the third quarter of the Bengals-Chiefs game in Week 13 of the 2022 season at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
QB Joe Burrow prepares to throw the ball during the third quarter of the Bengals-Chiefs game in Week 13 of the 2022 season at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Bengals will try to win their fifth straight when they take on the Browns on Sunday at Paycor Stadium. The game airs at 1 p.m. on CBS. Here are five things to watch:

1. Home sweet home

The Bengals have won four straight home games for the first time since 2015, outscoring visiting teams 130-77 from the time the streak began in Week 4. Offensively, Cincinnati has put up more than 430 net yards in each of its last three games at Paycor Stadium, and is averaging 462.8 yards at home compared to 341.1 on the road. The Bengals defense, meanwhile, allows just 295.4 yards per game on its home turf and has forced five turnovers. The unit has come out ready to roll from the start of every game at Paycor, allowing just nine total points in the first quarter.

Cincinnati has welcomed an attendance of over 65,000 in five straight regular-season home games for the first time since 2007, creating one of the NFL's toughest environments to play in. To come away with their first divisional win at home this season, the Bengals will need to replicate its recent performances in The Jungle.

2. Burrow closes in on 75

Quarterback Joe Burrow enters Week 14 needing three touchdown passes to reach 75 for his career, which would put him in some exclusive company given how quickly he'd hit the milestone. In 38 games, the former No. 1 overall pick has thrown for 72 touchdowns and rushed for 10. With three passing scores on Sunday, he would join Andrew Luck as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 75 touchdown passes and 10 rushing touchdowns in their first three seasons. Burrow can also become just the fifth player since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger with 75 touchdown passes in his first 40 career games, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Kurt Warner, as well as Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.

Burrow has passed for three or more touchdowns on four occasions this season and 12 times in his career.

3. O-line vs. Myles Garrett

Earlier this week, Burrow was asked whether Cleveland possesses any unique traits defensively that have caused him problems in previous matchups. His answer was short, and accurate:

"They have Myles Garrett — that's different from everybody else."

Garrett has wreaked havoc against the Bengals during his stellar career, posting nine sacks in eight games along with six tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. He had 1.5 sacks on Burrow in the Week 8 matchup and also tipped a pass that led to an interception on the game's opening drive. But Garrett this time around will be facing a Cincinnati offensive line that has steadily improved and enters Week 14 performing as well as any unit in the NFL. Since Burrow was taken down five times at Cleveland, the Bengals have allowed just six sacks in the last four games — tied for the fourth-fewest leaguewide in that span. Burrow and head coach Zac Taylor have held the O-line in high regard in recent weeks, and for Cincinnati to pick up its first win in the Battle of Ohio since 2019, its front five will need to continue keeping its quarterback clean.

4. D-line vs. Nick Chubb

The other trench battle on Sunday features a stout Bengals defensive line against a Browns rushing attack that ranks fourth in the NFL (156.0 yards per game). Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb is second in the league in rushing yards (1,119) and rushing touchdowns (12), and averages 5.2 yards per carry. One of his six 100-yard games this season came against Cincinnati in Week 8, when he went for 101 with two touchdowns. That led the way for a Browns offense that recorded 172 rushing yards, the second-most by a Bengals opponent this season.

Since that game, Cincinnati's defense has put forth several impressive efforts in stopping the run. The Bengals faced two premier backs in Pittsburgh's Najee Harris in Week 11 and Tennessee's Derrick Henry in Week 12, and held both under the century mark (Henry mustered just 38 yards on 17 carries). Carolina (Week 9) and Tennessee both were limited to fewer than 65 rushing yards as a team. The Bengals are 7-1 this season when keeping opponents under 110 yards on the ground, and frustrating another star player like Chubb could prove to be the difference in a physical AFC North showdown.

5. Burrow in the clutch

To beat the Browns for the first time since Burrow was drafted, Cincinnati may need to rely on its playmakers down the stretch in a close game. Fortunately for the Bengals, nobody performs better in "clutch time" than number 9. Though difficult to quantify a quarterback's abilities in those tense moments late in a game, The Athletic's Paul Dehner discovered this week just how far ahead of the pack Burrow is when it's time for an outcome to be decided:

"Consider Burrow's actual stat line in the fourth quarter and overtime of games when within 10 points: 37 of 46 (80.4 percent) for 541 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, 11.8 yards/attempt and a passer rating of 151.9. That's alien stuff."

As Dehner mentioned on "Hear That Podcast Growlin'" earlier this week, the quarterback with the next highest passer rating in that situation is Jalen Hurts at 136.4, and nobody else is above 111.0. Facing a talented group of pass rushers and a turnover-privy secondary this week, Burrow may be asked to tap into his unparalleled clutch gene.

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