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Ravens Insider: Browns sitting Joe Flacco, other top players vs. Bengals to be rested for playoffs


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CINCINNATI — Two seasons ago, the playoff-bound Cincinnati Bengals rested most of their starters in a meaningless regular-season finale at Cleveland against the also-ran Browns, who were wrapping up a disappointing season.

The scenario will be flipped on Sunday.

Cleveland (11-5), looking ahead to a playoff game next weekend, will finish the regular season in Cincinnati against the Bengals (8-8), who’ve got no place to go but home.

The Browns will hold out many of their core players against Cincinnati, including soon-to-be 39-year-old quarterback Joe Flacco, who came off his couch to win four games in December and push the Browns into the playoffs for just the third time since 1999.

Flacco, who led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title after the 2012 season, has normally fatalistic Cleveland fans believing this could be a special season after throwing for 1,616 yards in five starts since he was signed on Nov. 20.

Flacco is playing only because the Browns lost $230 million franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson to a season-ending shoulder injury in November, and rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson went down with a hip injury late in December.

After plugging holes and maneuvering lineups all season, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski isn’t taking any chances and will rest as many players as he can.

“I feel like we’ve earned that opportunity with how we took care of business the previous week,” Stefanski said.

Cleveland will face Cincinnati using its fifth quarterback as Jeff Driskel, signed off Arizona’s practice squad last week, is slated to start.

The Browns are just the eighth team since 1950 to win with four QBs in the same season, and they can join the 1987 New England Patriots as the only teams to win a game with five starting quarterbacks.

Looking ahead

The Browns are the No. 5 seed and will open the playoffs next weekend against the AFC South champion. That could be Jacksonville, which would clinch the division with a win over Tennessee. If the Jaguars lose, the Indianapolis-Houston winner would win the division.

Won’t back down

The Bengals want to finish on a positive note — and above the .500 mark — in a season that saw franchise quarterback Joe Burrow miss training camp because of a strained calf muscle and then suffer a season-ending wrist injury.

“We expected to be here playing for the playoffs,” said defensive end Sam Hubbard, who plans to play even though he’ll need postseason surgery for an unspecified injury. “That’s not how it worked out. With Joe going down early in training camp, all types of stuff happening. Crazy. But that’s life in the NFL. Every year will not go how you draw it up.”

(Un)welcome to the jungle

Given his record against them, Flacco didn’t seem all that upset about not facing the Bengals — especially on the road.

“Yeah, I hate going to Cincinnati,” he said. “They’ve always played us tough.”

Forgive Flacco. By “us” he means the Ravens, his team for 11 seasons. He’s still getting used to being in Cleveland.

Flacco is 9-12 in his career against the Bengals, quite a contrast to his 18-3 record against the Browns.

Last impression

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett will likely join Flacco on the sideline, missing a chance to pad his stats or boost his Defensive Player of the Year resume.

He’s never won the award, and a strong finish might help him gain a few more votes with ballots from the national media due Monday.

As far as Stefanski’s concerned, Garrett, who was named a Pro Bowler for the fifth time, has done more than enough during his most dominant season.

“I don’t know that Myles needs to do anything more on a football field to convince anyone how important he’s been to our football team,” Stefanski said. “Said it before, I’ll say it again, he’s the best player on the best defense in the National Football League. That counts for something.”

So close

The Bengals were still in the playoff picture until a 25-17 loss at Kansas City last Sunday in which the Chiefs rallied to win with six straight field goals.

Quarterback Jake Browning was outstanding at times in leading Cincinnati to a 3-3 record after Burrow went down on Nov. 16, but the Bengals self-destructed with mistakes all over the field the last two weeks.

Cincinnati won the AFC North the past two seasons, advancing to the Super Bowl after the 2021 campaign, and to the AFC championship game last season.

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