Bengals bracing for 'dogfight' in Cleveland

CINCINNATI -- George Iloka might have been aware of the pun he delivered, but there was little indication of it.

The Cincinnati Bengals safety had a serious look on his face. There was no smiling. There was no laughter. It seemed he had a real understanding of the gravity of the words he was saying.

When it came to discussing the trip to Cleveland he and his teammates are making this weekend, Iloka was very direct Wednesday afternoon about what the Bengals are anticipating when they meet their fellow AFC North foe in another installment of their classic rivalry.

"You just have to expect a dogfight, and when you go up there, just know that you're going to play all four downs and all four quarters," Iloka said.

Surely you caught the pun, intentional or not.

You didn't? Well, we just might have to check your NFL fan card.

For 79 times in NFL history, the Bengals and Browns have met in games that have divided a state, separated households and put friendships on pause.

"Obviously the rivalry has been there for a while," said Rob Chudzinski, the Browns' first-year head coach and a native of Toledo, Ohio. "I have relatives and people who live in Cincinnati, and over the course of the years we've had some fun ribbing about the game."

Whether at the old Riverfront Stadium or the new Paul Brown Stadium, the contests have been intense whenever they are held in Cincinnati. In Cleveland, the "Dog Pound" has been equally intense and emotional. For the Bengals, those games have been among the most hostile scenes they have encountered.

"Division teams always play each other pretty tight. No matter which of them is having a better season, they always play each other snug," Bengals veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We know going there, this is going to be one of the toughest road trips we have. They know us well. We know them. You're going on the road into their place, so it's an advantage for them. It's a challenge, but you've got to be able to win games like that if you want to have success throughout the year."

The past eight meetings have been decided by 10 points or less. Cincinnati has won all of them but two.

One week after the Browns claimed their first win of the season in a 31-27 victory at Minnesota, the Bengals are anticipating an emotional, confident team when they step inside FirstEnergy Stadium.

The emotions and excitement ought to be particularly high for the Browns who are giving fifth-year quarterback Brian Hoyer only the fourth start of his career. The Cleveland native got the nod over an ailing Brandon Weeden against the Vikings in Week 3, and will be starting as a professional quarterback for the first time in his hometown. Cincinnati is no stranger to a mid-season quarterback drama. When Andy Dalton was drafted, there was similar initial intrigue as many wondered what it meant for Carson Palmer's status on the roster. Eventually, the Bengals traded Palmer to Oakland and stuck with Dalton.

He's been their starting quarterback ever since.

"I would imagine they're going to be as tough as they'll ever be because we had [a switch] in 2011," Whitworth said. "Kind of that same deal when Carson left and people said there's no way you can do it. You just kind of rally around each other. Sometimes it's hard to get guys to believe in it, but the truth is, the game of football is special and the team is better than any individual.

"We're going to play a team that's riled up and that believes in one another and that's going to be fighting for each other. It's going to be one of the hardest challenges of the year."

It's one the Bengals better embrace, or they'll be staring at a .500 record in a flash.