This year's Battle of Ohio began in Week 9, when the Bengals cruised to a 31-10 outcome behind three touchdowns passes by Andy Dalton, 152 team rushing yards and a second-half shutout by the defense.
Since then, the Bengals have had their fair share of trouble against quality teams, but they trounced the St. Louis Rams last weekend. Cleveland hasn't won in the same span and deals with yet another quarterback change.
Here's a look at how Cincinnati should approach the contest.
Offensive Game Plan
Cincinnati wrote the perfect end-of-season blueprint last week against the Rams.
In that game, Dalton threw a trio of touchdowns and didn't even have to suit up for the entire game in large part because the offense got back to its run-first ways. Jeremy Hill posted his best game of the season with 16 carries for 86 yards, and the team as a whole rushed for 4.5 yards per carry.
Honestly, road game or not, doing similar numbers shouldn't be too difficult this weekend. Cleveland allows 265.2 passing yards, 135.6 rushing yards and 28.2 points per game on average. To make it even worse, the team might slap corner Joe Haden on injured reserve, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Perhaps the biggest issue for the Bengals will be the absence of tight end Tyler Eifert, who is doubtful, according to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com:
Geoff Hobson @GeoffHobsonCin
Eifert doubtful with pinched nerve Chris Lewis-Harris doubtful with ribs issue2015-12-4 18:07:33
Eifert caught all three touchdowns against the Browns in the first matchup, but all his absence does is switch the focal point of the offense to A.J. Green.
So long as Hill continues to run well, shifting to one of the game's best wideouts through the air against a team down its No. 1 corner shouldn't be a problem.
Defensive Game Plan
Play their game.
It sounds silly, if not a little cliche, but the Browns will start Austin Davis under center, a career backup who has 13 touchdowns to nine interceptions with four fumbles in 11 appearances.
The Bengals took down Johnny Manziel three times in the first meeting, and Davis doesn't offer the same escapeability or big-play upside as the backup. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap touched on the situation earlier this week.
"It really doesn't matter who the (Browns') quarterback is because at the end of the day, we have to play our (type of) football game,"Dunlap said, according to ESPN.com. "If Johnny's not playing, it's a lot less running I have to do."
Cleveland doesn't pose much of a threat on the ground, either, unless the team finds a way to get Duke Johnson Jr. involved in a creative manner. Considering Cincinnati just held Todd Gurley in check, though, it also shouldn't be an issue.
Cincinnati does have to watch for the big play to Travis Benjamin down the field and Gary Barnidge in the middle, but a quick pass rush against a backup quarterback can silence the attack.
Key Players and Matchups
Folks waited more than half the season on Hill's breakout, and they got it last week.
Now he gets another shot at the Browns, a team he exploded on the road against for 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns last season.
Cincinnati might not need such a Madden-esque line this time around to secure a victory, but it sure wouldn't hurt. The Bengals are getting to the point of the season where they need to think about staying healthy at key spots—controlling the pace of the game helps.
If Hill can run like he did last week, not only will he help lead to a victory, he'll establish more momentum with tougher matchups on the way.
Geno Atkins and the defensive line went on a tear last week against the Rams, grabbing one sack of Nick Foles and forcing three interceptions; Leon Hall took one of them back to the house for a score.
Atkins and Co. have a chance at similar production on the road this weekend against a similar quarterback.
Also important, though, is containing the ground game. It's easy to forget, but Cincinnati started the season off sluggish against the run. Atkins and his unit have no reason to revert.
It's on Green to produce through the air this week.
Green struggled against the Browns last year, catching three passes for 23 yards in the first meeting and five for 49 in the second. Earlier this year, he mustered just four for 53.
At the least, Green needs to demand his usual attention so that Marvin Jones and others can contribute. If Hill runs well, this will be an easier task. With or without Hill, though, Green needs to have one of his better games against Cleveland for the Bengals to escape in comfortable fashion.
This one should be as ugly as the first.
Cleveland doesn't have the talent on the defensive side of the ball to spread itself thin and account for all of Cincinnati's weapons, Eifert or not. Hill's in for another major performance as he really gets going against a unit that hasn't stopped anyone this year.
On defense, it's reasonable to expect pressure to create more interceptions, if not fumbles. The Bengals might let Barnidge have a nice game, but he won't be enough on his own to keep pace.
Look for the Bengals to get ahead early and ride Hill to a simple 10th win.
Prediction: Bengals 30, Browns 13