Seven Cleveland Browns players have officially been listed as questionable to play in Sunday’s Wild Card Round playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a combination of injuries and illnesses, in addition to the players that will miss the game while in the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol.
Right tackle Jack Conklin (knee and illness), defensive end Myles Garrett (shoulder), cornerback Terrance Mitchell (not injury related), wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (concussion), defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (neck), cornerback M.J. Stewart (calf) and right guard Wyatt Teller (ankle) are all listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski said that he’s confident that Garrett and Richardson will be able to play for the Cleveland defensive line and that Peoples-Jones was cleared to return to practice on Friday for the first time since suffering a concussion in the teams’ Week 17 game on Sunday.
The availability trouble spots for the Browns appear to be on the offensive line and in the secondary.
Left guard Joel Bitonio will miss the game after testing positive for COVID-19. With backups Chris Hubbard and Nick Harris on injured reserve, Michael Dunn is expected to start at left guard.
Dunn, 26, is in his fourth season of professional football, having spent time with the Los Angeles Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Birmingham Iron of the AAF, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Dragons of the XFL before joining the Browns this offseason, but had never played in an NFL game before the 2020 season.
Since first being elevated to the active roster on Nov. 14, Dunn has appeared in six games for Cleveland, but has played just one snap of offense, with the rest of his appearances coming on special teams.
If Teller is unable to play at right guard, Cleveland’s top backup is former Jaguars draft pick Blake Hance, who the team signed on Thursday. Hance has never played an NFL game. At tackle, experienced backup Kendall Lamm would start if Conklin cannot play.
In the secondary, starting cornerback Denzel Ward will be eligible to come off the COVID-19 reserve list on Saturday, but Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods said that it’s unclear if he will.
Backup Kevin Johnson will miss the game while on the COVID list, so if Mitchell and Stewart are unable to play, third-year pro Robert Jackson may once again be called on to play a large role. A regular special teams contributor, Jackson played 67 snaps of defense on Sunday against the Steelers after playing just six the entire rest of the season
Starting safety Ronnie Harrison, Jr. will also miss the game while on the COVID-19 list, along with reserve safety Jovante Moffat. West Virginia grad Karl Joseph will likely start in place of Harrison.
Offseason Primer: Cincinnati Bengals Continuing Youth Movement with No. 5 Pick, A.J. Green Set for Free Agency
Last season proved another challenging campaign for the 4-11-1 Cincinnati Bengals. Not only did they finish last in the AFC North for the third consecutive year, but they also lost quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, to a season-ending knee injury Week 11.
Burrow was having a strong rookie season prior to the injury, passing for 2,688 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions through ten games. He also demonstrated his mobility adding three scores on the ground.
The former Heisman winner needed that mobility throughout the season, as he was sacked 32 times. Strengthening the offensive line to better protect Burrow in the future will be paramount for the Bengals, a goal they will likely address both through free agency and the draft.
Burrow also operated the majority of the season without the services of running back Joe Mixon, who saw action in just six games due to a foot injury. Mixon rushed for a career-low 428 yards and three touchdowns.
While Mixon will be back healthy in 2021, wide receiver A.J. Green is expected to be playing elsewhere next season. Green remained relatively healthy and played in all 16 games, but posted career lows across the board in receiving yards (523) and touchdowns (2). With Green set to hit free agency in just a few months, he will end his Bengals career as the second most prolific receiver in franchise history, trailing only Chad Johnson.
Green may not be the only franchise mainstay the Bengals part ways with this offseason. As the youth movement in Cincinnati continues, they could also move on from defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The two-time All-Pro was virtually invisible this past season and saw his snap counts consistently drop week-by-week. He recorded just a single tackle and a quarterback hit in eight games. Still under contract the next two seasons for $24.6 million, Cincinnati and the 32-year-old are likely headed for a divorce, either by trade or release.
The Bengals’ defense faced their fair share of struggles themselves, but free safety Jessie Bates III was one of the lone bright spots. Bates led the team with 109 total tackles, three interceptions and 15 passes defended. He was honored as the Bengals’ 2020 Team MVP by the Cincinnati Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.
Cincinnati’s defensive struggles can largely be pinned on their lackluster pass rush, which recorded the fewest sacks in football with 17. Acquiring a difference maker along the defensive line is at the top of their wishlist.
Cincinnati will have plenty of opportunities to retool and add talent with eight total picks in April’s draft, including the No. 5-overall selection.
Notable Free Agents:
WR A.J. Green
SS Shawn Williams
WR John Ross
CB Mackensie Alexander
CB William Jackson
P Kevin Huber
WR Alex Erickson
TE Cethan Carter
S Brandon Wilson
G Alex Redmond
K Randy Bullock
CB LeShaun Sims
ILB Josh Bynes
DT Christian Covington
DT Mike Daniels
LS Clark Harris
DE Margus Hunt
DT Xavier Williams
WR Mike Thomas
QB Brandon Allen
DE Carl Lawson
CB Tony Brown*
RB Samaje Perine
OLB Jordan Evans
Cincinnati has an active cap of $148,458,547 entering the 2021 offseason, according to Spotrac. The Bengals have the fifth-most cap space in the league at $34,224,143.
Packers Could Pass Steelers in All-Time Playoff Wins in NFC Championship Game
The Green Bay Packers can pass the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL record books with a win in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
The Packers and Steelers are currently tied with 36 all-time NFL playoff wins, the second-most behind the New England Patriots, who have 37.
The Packers will be playing the man responsible for most of those wins in New England, now-Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady.
Both the Packers and Patriots have a higher postseason winning percentage than the Steelers, with New England holding a 37-21 record and Green Bay 36-23, while Pittsburgh is 26-26 after a Wild Card Round loss to Cleveland this month.
None of the other top five teams, including Dallas (35-28) and San Francisco (32-30) are still alive this year. Tampa Bay has just eight playoff wins in its history, the sixth-fewest in league history.
The Buffalo Bills (16-17) and Kansas City Chiefs (14-19) are 19th and 20th in playoff wins entering their AFC Championship Game showdown on Saturday.
Chase Claypool again Says Cleveland will Lose to Chiefs; Claims Browns ‘Classless’ in Win
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool isn’t backing down from his prediction that the Cleveland Browns will lose in the second round of the NFL Playoffs this weekend, and said he made his comment about the Browns “getting clapped” by the Kansas City Chiefs the way he did because they were “classless” on the field in their win over Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
“Not that I’m praying on them to get beat really bad, but someone just asked me a score prediction and that was kind of a way of me saying that I think the Chiefs are going to beat the Browns,” Claypool explained in an interview with DAZN on Thursday.
“I think if the Browns had won with more class, then I wouldn’t have been so salty about it. But them mocking JuJu before the game and after the game, it just didn’t sit right with me.”
— DAZN Canada (@DAZN_CA) January 13, 2021
Claypool said that specifically, the Browns were mocking fellow Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had drawn ire around the league for his behavior on social media this season.
“They were just super classless toward JuJu, what they were saying on the field toward the end of the game,” Claypool said. “I’m not going to have respect for a team that doesn’t have respect for us.”
“They can enjoy the win and another week of football, but they’ll be on the couch right next to me next week,” Claypool said.