Here's what we're watching for in a matchup airing exclusively on NFL Network.
- Making this the No. 1 item is not meant to take away from the fact that Cincinnati has been incredible this season. It seems that Marvin Lewis' vision has finally matched the personnel -- and the timing is right in the AFC North. But Johnny Manziel is playing and there's no question all eyes will be on Cleveland's diminutive playmaker. Manziel wowed against the Titans, causing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo to declare that sometimes, coaching is overrated. But it was against these same Bengals that Manziel made his first NFL start, to utterly disastrous results. An argument can be made that he's improved since then -- his completion percentage, TD-INT ratio, yards per completion and passer rating have all skyrocketed -- but this will certainly be a different test on a short week against a great team in a hostile environment.
- The Bengals, despite playing great defense this season, have not been an aggressive blitz team. Actually, they've only sent double digit blitzes once this season against the Kansas City Chiefs. Manziel, though, might invite a few more defenders in the box. Lewis will already be expecting a run-heavy attack, and Manziel, like he's prone to do, will try and move laterally in the pocket to extend the play and make throws. This leads me to believe that Lewis will attempt to speed up that process and force Manziel to make the throws he cannot currently make.
- Will the Browns still flirt with big wins? Cleveland played Denver extraordinarily close this season and probably should have won the game several times over. They played well against the Raiders and Chargers -- a game which, at the time still would have been considered a surprising win for Cleveland -- but lost. Now, at 2-6 and with just about everyone in shouting distance reporting that the team was interested in a fire sale, what do they have left? Can we reasonably expect Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo to ball out on Thursday?