Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Browns v. Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 1 p.m., in Paul Brown Stadium
Last game: Defeated Denver Broncos, 20-17, Nov. 17, in Denver.
Coach: Marvin Lewis, 122-116-3, 15th year.
Series record: Bengals lead, 49-39.
Last meeting: Bengals won, 31-7, Oct. 1, in Cleveland.
League rankings: Offense is 32nd overall (32nd rushing, 29th passing), defense is 12th overall (27th rushing, sixth passing), and turnover differential is minus-7.
1. Red zone defense: Some coaches consider this situation the truest indicator of a defense’s toughness because this is where points are saved. If so, the Bengals are among the league leaders. They have allowed touchdowns on 14 of 34 possessions (41.2 percent) inside the 20. That ranks fifth in the NFL. By contrast, the Browns are 32nd in this tell-tale stat, allowing 20 touchdowns in 26 possessions (76.9 percent) inside the 20.
2. A.J. and Andy: Receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton were the Bengals top two picks in the 2011 draft. In that time, their 509 receptions and 7,496 yards are the most for a quarterback-receiver duo through their first seven seasons. Their 50 touchdowns rank second to Miami’s Dan Marino and Mark Clayton.
3. Outside pass protection: Early on, this was a team weakness. But a season-ending injury to Jake Fisher resulted in a rotation at right tackle being scrapped. Steady progression by left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and right tackle Andre Smith has been apparent. The Bengals have allowed only five sacks the last three games against Denver, Tennessee and Jacksonville.
1. Running the ball: They are averaging a league-low 68 rushing yards a game. This is a pace for 1,088 total yards, which would be the franchise’s worst in a 16-game season.
2. Stopping the run: They are 27th against the run, yielding 122.4 yards a game on the ground. Even though this is listed as a weakness, only Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, with 134, has exceeded 100 yards on them.
3. Special teams breakdowns: In the last five games, they have given up a fake punt for a first down, a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown, had one field goal blocked, had one punt blocked and missed two extra points.
Players to watch
1. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict: Volatile and prone to stepping over the line, he is the energy that feeds the entire defense. After missing the first three games in a league suspension, he is fourth in tackles and has two sacks and two passes defensed. He had 11 solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in the win in Denver.
2. Receiver A.J. Green: In 12 meetings against the Browns, he has 57 receptions for 887 yards with seven touchdowns. With career-nemesis Joe Haden no longer covering him, Green had 5 catches for 63 yards and a TD in the first meeting this year.
3. Quarterback Andy Dalton: He turned in his best game of the year in the first meeting against the Browns (25 of 30 for 286 yards and four TDs), raising his record to 10-3 against his Ohio rival, with 24 touchdowns v. 11 interceptions and a 95.0 passer rating.
Small world: President and General Manager Mike Brown is the son of Hall of Famer Paul Brown, founding coach of the Browns and founder of the Bengals … Defensive line coach Jacob Burney had the same role with the Browns in 1994 and 1995.