Double Coverage: Browns at Bengals

Joe Haden, left, and A.J. Green will likely see plenty of each other on Sunday. AP Photo

Stop us if you've heard this before: The eyes of the entire AFC will be upon Cincinnati this weekend for a key, late-season conference clash between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

Don't recall when you heard that? That's OK. If you weren't alive 20 years ago, you probably never have.

Indeed, with the AFC North race now tightened following the Bengals' loss at Baltimore this past weekend, Sunday's showdown between old in-state nemeses finally means something. With a Browns team eager to finally prove it isn't a fluke and a Bengals bunch desperate for a win, the 81st edition of the "Battle of Ohio" could be one of the best yet.

To get set for the ballgame, check out what ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon and ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey have to say about the matchup.

Pat McManamon: Coley, the Bengals were sitting pretty two weeks ago, but they've lost two games in a row they should have won if they are truly a good team. Can they recover from this?

Coley Harvey: Pat, I have a feeling the Bengals will be able to recover from this little funk they've fallen into. The good thing they have going for themselves is that after Sunday's game, they finally go on a bye and will have time to rest up, recharge and get set for the final five-game stretch. Although they honestly haven't shown it, you have to imagine the lateness of their bye, coupled with the awkwardness of a short week of preparation before last week's Thursday night game, made it tougher to adjust to the endless stream of injuries they've had in recent weeks. Before coming out of Sunday's game at Baltimore injury-free, in the previous three games the Bengals lost their top cornerback, their best defensive player, a starting linebacker and their most versatile defensive back to serious injuries.

The biggest key for Cincinnati is to get better play from Andy Dalton. He's been the hidden link. During the Bengals' four-game winning streak last month, he put together the best stretch any quarterback in Bengals history has enjoyed. In the past two games, he's thrown six interceptions and was part of a fumble. You have to believe Dalton will turn it around eventually. If he does, this team will do the same.

Quarterback play perpetually has been a hot-button issue in Cleveland. How much do you think the week off will benefit a banged-up Jason Campbell, Pat?

McManamon: Without a doubt, Coley. The Browns downplayed his injury during the bye week -- this is the NFL, after all -- but it's tough for a quarterback to stand in the pocket with bruised ribs, which can be as painful as broken ribs. The one person the Browns cannot afford to lose is Campbell. He's a bit of a mystery because in two games he's probably played better than he has his whole his career. So while folks in Cleveland are excited about him, there's also a bit of a question as to whether he can maintain what he's done. That being said, Brandon Weeden seems to have lost all his confidence, and if he has to return to the field it could be tough, both for Weeden and for the team around him to believe.

Coley, the Browns were pretty proud of the way Joe Haden played against A.J. Green in Week 4. Haden did a good job, and he really seems to have grown up and grown into a different person and player this season. That being said, Green is one of the best. Does he take a game like that personally, and should we expect a big game from him this weekend?

Harvey: Green definitely takes games like that personally. I think five of the last six weeks have been evidence of just how annoyed he gets by such comparatively poor personal performances. In addition to the job Haden did covering him in Cleveland, Green was blanketed the following week by New England's Aqib Talib. Through those two games, he had a combined 12 receptions for 112 yards. In the five games since, he has 34 receptions for 652 yards, helping him become the league's current receiving yards leader. Part of the reason for that success has to do with the fact that he simply hasn't faced cornerbacks as good as Haden and Talib. It also has to do with the fact that the Bengals have finally gotten other receivers involved in the passing game, shifting some of the attention on Green. All of that said, A.J. still has the utmost respect for Haden, dating back to when they played collegiately at Georgia and Florida, respectively.

While the Bengals are very well aware of the potential danger Haden presents, they also are aware of how good the Browns' defensive line is. What do you think it was it that worked so well for the front in getting after Baltimore's Joe Flacco in the Browns' last game?

McManamon: Thanks for the question with the relatively easy answer. The reason: aggressiveness. That's the way the Browns want to play, and that's the way Ray Horton had the defense playing -- until they faced Detroit and Green Bay. For whatever reason -- probably respect for the quarterbacks they were facing -- Horton backed away from being aggressive. Against Baltimore and Kansas City he returned to his attacking ways, and it worked. The Browns all watched Sunday's game in Baltimore, and they saw the pressure the Ravens brought on Dalton. If Horton doesn't repeat the pressure, it would be a shock.

Coley, I've always had great respect for Geno Atkins, the way he plays and acts. Yet in the first game without him the Bengals' defense didn't even give up 200 yards. How big is his loss, and will this weekend be a major struggle for Campbell?

Harvey: Since we're talking about a two-time Pro Bowler who could be considered the best player on the team, his loss is one that will be felt. Still, his replacement, Brandon Thompson, had a very impressive first game getting so many defensive tackle snaps. It should be noted, though, that before Atkins' injury, Thompson played regularly, and well, as part of a rotation the Bengals had.

Last question for you, Pat. What are the Browns saying about this weekend and the relative importance it has, not only on the division race, but the balance of power in the state of Ohio? A win for the Browns, a loss for the Ravens against Chicago and all of a sudden, the AFC North is a real all-Buckeye battle.

McManamon: It's not being looked at from the standpoint of the state of Ohio, but more from the city of Cleveland. The Browns' futility almost has to be seen on paper to be believed. No winning record in the AFC North. Averaging almost 11 losses per season over the previous 10 seasons. Six years since they've swept any AFC North team, 11 years since they swept the Bengals. To the fans of Cleveland, the state of Ohio is an NFL Death Valley. That's why people in Cleveland are actually calling this game "huge," and the players are looking at it as a chance -- as Phil Taylor said -- to show there's a new team to think about in the AFC North. It's a bit over the top, but it's what happens when a team has been this bad for this long.