Fay: The Bengals are in a can't-win situation this week, but they can't lose to the Browns

And they're feeling the pressure
Posted at 9:00 AM, Dec 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-08 10:49:30-05

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals are in a can't-win situation this week.

If they beat the Browns Sunday in Cleveland, it's no big deal. Everyone has beaten the Browns this year. They come in 0-12 with a real shot at becoming the second 0-16 team in NFL history. (The 2008 Detroit Lions were the first.)

If the Bengals lose to the Browns, they could earn a spot in infamy -- the only team standing between Cleveland and a winless season.

That brings a bit of pressure.

"Yeah, it does," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "Obviously, we don't want to be the ones to end their streak."

Plus, the Bengals know the Browns are scrapping to avoid a spot no team wants in the record book.

"I don't know if there's pressure as much as you know you're going to get every bit of fight they've got left," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "(Browns head coach) Hue Jackson, the motivator he is, I'm sure he's got them prepared for these last four weeks. They're going to give everything they've got every single week. That shouldn't be our concern. I expect our football team to be fighting the exact same way."

The Bengals beat the Browns 31-17 in Week 7, piling up 559 yards -- their most since 1990.

This is a classic trap game. The Browns are coming off a bye week, and since they played the Bengals, they've bolstered their roster. They've added linebacker Jamie Collins through a trade, and both quarterback Robert Griffin III and cornerback Joe Haden are healthy.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Robert Griffin III #10 of the Cleveland Browns plays against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Browns 29-10. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

"They've got two really good players that didn't play against us the first time," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "Any time you can add two guys like that, it's going to help your defense."

Jackson, formerly the Bengals' offensive coordinator, will reach deep into his deep bag of tricks for the game.

"Expect the unexpected and adjust to it," Dunlap said. "They are where they are right now. Any little trick or gimmick to give their team a spark, he's going to do it.

"We've seen some weird formations before, but I'm pretty sure he'll come up with something new."

The Bengals said all the right things about the Browns.

"They haven't won a game, but they've been in games," Dalton said. "We've got to put the same focus we've got every week. You can't let their record slip into your mind. You've got to be ready."

Head coach Marvin Lewis said Cleveland is much better than its record shows.

But that's really not true.

The Browns are unprecedentedly bad. Since a couple of close calls -- they lost to Tennessee 28-26 on Oct. 16 and lost to the Jets 31-28 on Oct. 30 -- the Browns have gotten blown out in four straight games. They lost by 25 to Dallas, 21 to Baltimore, 14 to Pittsburgh and 14 to the Giants.

The Browns rank 31st in points scored, 29th in total yards, 27th in rushing yards, 26th in passing yards, 31st in points allowed, 31st in yards allowed, 31st in rushing yards allowed and 29th in turnover ratio.

The Bengals aren't having a banner year at 4-7-1. But the worst they rank in any of the above categories is 23rd.

And the Bengals are coming off their best game in two months -- a 32-14 win over Philadelphia. The offense scored on its first six possessions, and for the first time since he got hurt, A.J. Green was not badly missed.

"We finally put together a week where we got rolling," Whitworth said. "The execution was high. We found opportunity to get the ball to different guys. Sometimes that happens. When a guy like A.J. goes down, other guys step up and you find some hidden gems.

"They get in the game, the lights are on, and they show up. Hopefully, that's something we can build on."

The Bengals still have an outside chance to make the playoffs. That would end with a loss in Cleveland, though, and secure the Bengals a place in infamy.

So this is a game the Bengals can't lose -- even if they are in a can't-win situation.