Watson, Burrow square off as Browns host Bengals in season opener, 100th edition of Battle of Ohio

Deshaun Watson begins his first full season with Cleveland after the Browns quarterback was suspended for the first 11 games in 2022


Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT, CBS


SERIES RECORD: Bengals lead 52-47.

LAST MEETING: Bengals beat Browns 23-10 on Dec. 11 in Cincinnati.





TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Bengals plus-6; Browns minus-1.

BENGALS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Joe Burrow missed most of training camp with a strained calf muscle. He was sidelined July 27 and didn't practice again until Aug. 30. All indications are that the Pro Bowler will play. On Thursday, Burrow became the highest-paid player in the NFL, agreeing to a five-year, $275 million contract extension, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The contract includes more than $219 million guaranteed, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it hadn’t been announced.

BROWNS PLAYER TO WATCH: Unlike last season when he was suspended, QB Deshaun Watson begins 2023 on the field. Watson was banned 11 games by the NFL in 2022 for violating the league's personal-conduct policy after more than two dozen women accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior during massage therapy sessions. Watson looked rusty when he return, going 3-3 in six starts.

KEY MATCHUP: Bengals LT Orlando Brown Jr. vs. Browns All-Pro DE Myles Garrett. The Bengals signed the 6-foot-8, 345-pound Brown in the offseason to protect Burrow's blind side. He's had previous matchups with Kansas City against Garrett, who has had his most sacks (11) against Cincinnati and gotten to Burrow eight times.

KEY INJURIES: Bengals DE Joseph Ossai (ankle) is out. ... Browns CB Denzel Ward (concussion) could be a game-time decision.

SERIES NOTES: The 100th installment of the “Battle of Ohio.” ... After losing seven straight games to Cincinnati, Cleveland has won eight of the past 10 meetings. ... Browns coach Kevin Stefanski is 5-1 against the Bengals. ... The matchup includes a family tie as Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is the son of Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan. ... This is Stefanski's first season opener at home in four years.

STATS AND STUFF: Throwing to one of the league's most talented trio of wide receivers, Burrow leads a passing attack that ranked fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game (265.0) in 2022. ... Cincinnati's defense, which ranked sixth in points allowed per game (20.1) returns its core. The most significant departures were starting safeties Jesse Bates III and Vonn Bell who signed with other teams. ... Cincinnati brings back its three starting receivers — 2021 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd — for a third season together. They combined for 2,837 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. ... In 2022, Burrow finished second in the league in TD passes (35) and completion rate (68.3%), and fifth in passing yards (4,475) and completions (414). ... The Bengals are the only team with the same head coach and coordinators in place for each season since 2021. Callahan, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons have been with coach Zac Taylor since he was hired in 2019. ... Burrow reached 11,000 passing yards in Week 15 of the 2022 season in his 40th game. That tied him with Matthew Stafford as the fourth-fastest QB in NFL history to reach 11,000 yards. ... The Browns are just 2-21-1 in season openers since their 1999 expansion rebirth, and 1-15-1 in Week 1 at home. Cleveland hasn't won an opener at home since 2004. ... Watson completed a career-low 58.2% of his passes in the six games he played in 2022 following the suspension. In his second game back, Watson went 26 of 42 for 276 yards with a TD pass and interception in the loss to the Bengals. ... Watson is 3-1 in his career against Cincinnati. ... One of the main reasons Cleveland signed Watson was so it could compete against the division's other star QBs — Burrow and Baltimore's Lamar Jackson. ... Browns RB Nick Chubb rushed for a career-high 1,525 yards last season, and the Browns are expected to lean on the Pro Bowler again. ... Garrett is coming off his second consecutive 16-sack season. This year, Garrett has quality help up front as Cleveland revamped its line by adding three-time Pro Bowl DE Za'Darius Smith along with DTs Dalvin Tomlinson and Shelby Harris. ... Watson has also been given more to work with. The Browns added speedy slot WR Elijah Moore and Marquise Goodwin to give him a proven downfield threats. ... Browns K Dustin Hopkins will make his debut with the club after being acquired last week in a trade with the Chargers. ... Cleveland has 23 new players on its 53-man roster. ... The Browns will pay tribute to late Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown at halftime. Brown, the team's career rushing leader, died in May at age 87.

FANTASY TIP: With his elite speed and route running ability, Moore could be a primary target this season for Watson, especially when the QB improvises out of the pocket. Moore caught 80 passes in his two seasons with the Jets, and as long as he stays healthy, he could come close to that in 2023.


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Credit: AP

Credit: AP