Four notable elements sure to impact Sunday's Battle of Ohio rematch.
- We know who's No. 1 ... who the heck is No. 207?
Somehow, the No. 207 overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft (Jeff Driskel) outplayed this year's No. 1 choice (Baker Mayfield) in the second half of a Nov. 25 game at Cincinnati.
But then, young Baker's Browns led 35-7 before Driskel ever saw the field, following a season-ending injury to Andy Dalton.
Driskel was such an afterthought in the '16 draft that he was available even after the Browns had tapped since-departed players Jordan Payton, Spencer Drango and Trey Caldwell. The 49ers eventually drafted Driskel but exposed him to waivers. He was claimed by Cincinnati and spent two years in the shadows behind Dalton and AJ McCarron.
The athletic Driskel saw substantial action in three different seasons at Florida, but he was benched after throwing nine TDs and 10 picks in nine 2014 games, at which point he transferred to Louisiana Tech.
Even though Driskel recorded his first NFL win against Oakland, the Raiders began to expose him. He milked just 130 yards out of 33 throws and threw a pick.
Mayfield is coming off a choppy game at Denver, but he's back home, where he has gone 35-of-42 as a passer in his last two starts.
- Who's stable now?
Marvin Lewis is in his 16th season as head coach of the Bengals, a run as extended as the next two longest-tenured coaches in franchise history combined (franchise founder Paul Brown and Sam Wyche logged eight seasons apiece).
Lewis' run is grinding to a joyless end.
Through their first 49 years since Brown launched them, the Bengals never replaced a coordinator during a season. Now they've done it in two straight.
Ken Zampese, currently the QBs coach in Cleveland, was fired as Lewis' offensive coordinator early in the 2017 season. Teryl Austin, hired as defensive coordinator Jan. 18, got fired Nov. 12 after the Bengals became the first team in the NFL's Super Bowl era to give up 500 or more yards in three straight games.
Lewis took the defensive reins, for all the good that did while Mayfield directed TD drives of 78, 56, 96 and 59 yards in the first half Nov. 25.
Former Cornell QB Bill Lazor coordinates Cincinnati's offense, with help from "special assistant" Hue Jackson. At this point, that can't be fun.
- See you in September?
Even if the Browns win out, is Gregg Williams a lock to be back as head coach?
Williams would be 6-2 as "the interim," but what if John Dorsey concludes he could have continuity by hiring Bruce Arians, with the thought Freddie Kitchens would stay and prevent Mayfield from winding up with a third offensive coordinator?
Would Williams accept staying on as defensive coordinator?
Everyone agrees winning out would be a delightful problem to have. But there definitely will be tricky projections for Dorsey to make and problems that NEED solved if it happens.
- Battle of the defensive stars
Cincinnati's entire defensive front four has been intact all season. It features a future Hall of Fame candidate, tackle Geno Atkins, and one of the better AFC North ends the Browns have faced across the years, Carlos Dunlap.
It is a good front, but the rest of the defense has had issues.
The Browns, on the other hand, have won the last two games despite losing star rookie Denzel Ward to a concussion. Ward is back at cornerback, and Terrance Mitchell has returned from a wrist injury that cost him eight games.
That promising tandem will be playing together for the first time since September.
Amid the two corners, Myles Garrett and the loudest crowd of the year, Driskel and a depleted receiving corps could be in trouble.
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On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP