For what is sure to be one of the few times Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow practiced with the scout team this week in his NFL career, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor readies for his first playoff experience.
It sounds easy, but it's not.
Rest as many top-line players as you can in Sunday's finale (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) in Cleveland while trying to stay sharp for next week's Wild Card Game.
(And we'll guess the Patriots or Colts are headed to Paul Brown Stadium.)
Since head coach Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003, the Bengals have won five AFC North titles (the Ravens six and Steelers eight in that stretch ) and have tried it a couple of different ways.
Following the 2005 and 2009 division titles, they pretty much sat everybody for regular-season finales on the road and took a 37-3 loss in Kansas City and a 37-0 loss to the Jets, respectively. They got just 72 yards total in that game in New Yok, still their all-time low, and next week they got ousted fairly easily by the Steelers and Jets, respectively.
In 2015, with starting quarterback Andy Dalton injured and AJ McCarron needing the reps, McCarron played every snap of the Paul Brown Stadium finale against a Ravens team that was out of it.
With a win and a Broncos loss, the Bengals could have got a first-round bye, but they didn't even though they won, 24-16, with the offensive line playing all the snaps, wide receiver A.J. Green playing all but nine and five defensive starters including Vontaze Burfict playing at least 90 percent of the plays. McCarron almost pulled off the upset the next week and put the Bengals ahead of the Steelers with a touchdown pass to Green with 1:50 left before a fumble wiped it away.
"It's never perfect and there are pros and cons, but we're making the decision that's best for the team," Taylor said of the balance after Friday's practice. We still got a lot of those guys reps. More of the skill positon type guys. We gave them reps to stay sharp with the actual first team offense or defense, making sure they're still involved and getting good physical work. The bigger guys, we backed them down a little bit. For some of those guy it's important to let their bodies rest and get them ready for next week."
Burrow is officially listed as questionable even though he practiced full Friday and has been ruled out for Sunday. As he vowed, he got his throws in.
"He did it on the scout team, so he was able to see the defense, go through his progressions and throw it accurately and on time," Taylor said.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: It sounds like they may just try to get rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase the 12 yards he needs to break Chad Johnson's club record of 1,440. With 1,429, he's got three more than Green's career high ... Taylor said there's a possibility he'll play, but if he does it may not last much beyond a dozen yards ...
Tight end C.J. Uzomah (knee, hip), is questionable, even though he didn't practice all week. Kicker Evan McPherson (groin), edge Sam Hubbard (thigh) and nose tackle D.J. Reader (rest) went full, and were questionable. It would be hard to see anybody on the injury report playing, as those on the COVID list, such as starting and regulars at running back, Joe Mixon, edge Trey Hendrickson, tackle Larry Ogunjobi, center Trey Hopkins and defensive tackle B.J. Hill …
A slew of high-profile Browns went limited Friday and were listed as questionable, so look out. To name a few, running back Nick Chubb (ribs) is playing, as is edge Jadeveon Clowney (shoulder, knee) and defensive tackle Malik McDowall (neck). Cornerback Denzel Ward (groin) went limited and is questionable.