Johnny Manziel will try to pull off what nobody has been able to do this season: beat the Cincinnati Bengals.
The second-year Cleveland Browns quarterback takes over starting duties for the injured Josh McCown and draws a difficult matchup against a perfect 7-0 Bengals squad looking to further cement their hold on the AFC North on Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
McCown is sidelined due to shoulder and rib injuries, with the latter injury sustained in Week 8’s loss to Arizona. Manziel now makes his second start of the season against a Bengals secondary ranked No. 18 overall, but with defensive backs Adam Jones, Reggie Nelson, Darqueze Dennard and Shawn Williams combining for an impressive seven interceptions.
Manziel last started in Week 2 when McCown was out with a concussion, and led the Browns to their first victory of the season, a 28-14 triumph over Tennessee. He completed 8-15 passes for 172 yards, two touchdowns, and a 133.9 passer rating.
Browns head coach Mike Pettine told reporters the short, four-day span between games wouldn’t allow McCown enough time to heal, and that Manziel is ready for the challenge.
"On the short week we realized that Josh just wasn't going to be able to get to the point where he could go," Pettine said. "Johnny has worked hard to prepare himself. He is excited about his opportunity and we are all looking forward to the challenge we face in a good Bengals football team on Thursday night."
Should Manziel prevail, the victory would certainly redirect the trajectory of his early career, which was marred by poor play in his rookie season followed by a 10-week stay at an addiction treatment center in the offseason.
And Manziel also stands to slightly alter what’s been a historic season for quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals.
Cincinnati overcame a four-point fourth quarter deficit to beat rival Pittsburgh 16-10 in Week 8, capped by Dalton’s nine-yard touchdown strike to receiver A.J. Green with less than three minutes left in the game.
Now the Bengals are one of four undefeated teams left in the NFL, with three calling the AFC home, and off to the best start in franchise history with a three-and-a-half game division lead.
Cincinnati enters the matchup as an 11-point favorite due to Dalton’s excellent season with 15 touchdowns to only four interceptions, and he’ll face a depleted Browns secondary that will miss three defensive backs due to injury.
Cleveland has ruled out seven total players, including cornerback Joe Haden (concussion, ankle), safety Donte Whitner (concussion), and safety Jordan Poyer (shoulder), while safety Tashuan Gipson (ankle) is questionable. The Browns have struggled against the pass this season, ranking No. 23 in the league with 258 yards allowed per game.
Manziel will also have fewer targets with receivers Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline both out with concussions, but leading pass-catcher and tight end Gary Barnridge and yardage-leader Travis Benjamin are available.
The Bengals are banged up, just not as bad as Cleveland. Starting offensive tackle Andre Smith (concussion) has been ruled out, while defensive end Carlos Dunlap (shoulder) and linebacker Rey Maualuga (calf) are questionable.
Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Live Stream: NFL Online