Well, it used to be a notable rivalry.
Back in the day, the Browns and Bengals would go at it with a lot at stake and bragging rights to follow. Ohio’s two teams with such close ties — Paul Brown built both of them — played some memorable games with outsized characters.
Remember Sam Wyche’s “You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati” putdown?
Ah, the old days. Nowadays, the so-called Battle of Ohio is more of a struggle to stay relevant.
The Bengals (2-4) and Browns (0-6) haven’t been this bad together through six games since the 2008 season. Cincinnati is off to its worst start since 2010, when it finished 4-12.
Cleveland is off to its worst start since it was a first-year expansion team in 1999 and lost its first seven games.
“You have to understand where we are,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We’re kind of behind right now, with the way this season has gone, and we’ve got to get it back on track.”
It’s the first of Cincinnati’s back-to-back games against former offensive coordinators who know them well. The following week, Cincinnati makes its first trip to London to play Jay Gruden’s Washington team. Gruden was Jackson’s predecessor in Cincinnati as the coordinator.
The Browns are looking to hold up their end of Cleveland’s fantastic sports month. The Indians are back in the World Series. The Cavaliers raise their NBA championship banner. Now, can the Browns actually win a game?
“We have to get a win,” Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins said. “Every single week it is the same goal.”
Some things to watch on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Jackson knows what makes the Bengals’ defense tick. The Bengals know all of his tricks, from unbalanced lines to flea-flickers and double reverses. When the Bengals watched film of the Browns’ offense this week, it was as if they were watching themselves. Which one gets an advantage? The familiarity may not count for as much, given that Jackson is working with a makeshift roster because of injuries. Still, it’ll be like both teams looking in a mirror at times.
“Hue does a good job of when you think he’s going to throw something at you, he throws something else,” Bengals safety George Iloka said. “We are prepared that there will be some wrinkles. What those wrinkles will be, we’ll see. But he does a good job of giving you a little bit of everything.”
DALTON’S SURGE: Dalton leads the AFC in yards passing, but the Bengals are struggling near the end zone. The Bengals scored at least 24 points in seven of their first eight games last season while going 8-0. They have yet to score that many points in any game this season. Dalton had one of the worst games of his career against Cleveland in 2014, when he finished with a passer rating of 2.0 in a 24-3 loss at Paul Brown Stadium. He turned it around last season, going 35 of 46 for 454 yards with five TDs and no interceptions in the two intrastate games.
BURFICT’S BEHAVIOR: Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict was fined $75,000 for stepping on Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount during the loss in New England. Teammates say that opponents have been trying to set him off during games. Burfict was suspended by the NFL for the first three games because of his history of violating the league’s player safety rules. It’ll be worth watching his self-control during a game that can get nasty.
KESSLER’S ENCORE: Cleveland’s Cody Kessler threw for a career-high 337 yards and a pair of touchdowns during a loss at Tennessee last week. He’s trying to join Brandon Weeden as the only Browns rookies to throw for 300 yards in consecutive games. Most of all, he wants to help the Browns shed their distinction — the NFL’s only winless team.
“For me, I take it very personal, as do a lot of guys in this locker room,” Kessler said. “It just makes you compete that much harder and keep working harder because we have been really close in some of these games.”
PRYOR’S OLD PLACE: The Browns’ leading receiver returns to the place where he finally gave up on his goal of becoming an NFL quarterback. At Jackson’s suggestion, the Bengals signed Terrelle Pryor in the offseason last year to compete for a backup QB job. They released him, and he landed in Cleveland, this time as a receiver. He leads the Browns with 33 catches for 413 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also thrown nine passes, filling in as Cleveland’s quarterbacks got hurt.