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Motivation: Driskel would be fifth Browns winning QB with victory over Bengals

Jan. 6—Just because the Browns are locked into the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs does not mean they have no incentive to beat the Bengals in the season finale.

On the contrary, they have a chance to make history.

Jeff Driskel will start for the Browns in the 1 p.m. Jan. 7 kickoff at Paycor Stadium because head coach Kevin Stefanski has chosen to rest Joe Flacco — the pilot of the four-game winning streak the Browns are riding into Cincinnati. If they are victorious, Driskel will become the fifth Browns quarterback to win at least one game in the same season. That has never happened.

"(Driskel) has done a nice job," Stefanski said after practice Jan. 5. "Very good understanding of the offense. Seamless in that regard. Does a good job calling the plays, has a good understanding of all the concepts that we're calling, run game, pass game, that type of thing. So, been impressed."

Following the path blazed by Deshaun Watson, P.J. Walker, Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Flacco will not be easy. For one thing, Driskel, signed off the Cardinals' practice squad Dec. 29, is just 1-9 as an NFL starter with the Bengals, Lions, Broncos and Texans. And not only will it be a challenge because Driskel has been with Browns less than two weeks; he will not have a full roster to support him.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper, bothered by a heel injury, will miss his second straight game. Elijah Moore is listed as questionable after suffering a concussion in the Dec. 28 playoff-clinching win over the Jets. Dustin Hopkins is out with a left hamstring injury, so Riley Patterson will handle the placekicking duties for a second straight week.

Stefanski wouldn't reveal the entire list of players he plans to rest, but he did say star defensive end Myles Garrett won't play. Safety Juan Thornhill, slowed by a pesky calf injury, has been ruled out, as has cornerback Greg Newsome. Newsome has a knee injury and did not practice all week.

Some starters, such as left guard Joel Bitonio and right guard Wyatt Teller, might be in the lineup to begin the game and then give way to backups. Other backups might end up with more playing time than usual. It is worth noting Las Vegas has made the Browns seven-point underdogs.

The Browns will begin the playoffs Jan. 13 or 14 at the home of the AFC South winner. The Jaguars are currently in first place, but if the Titans beat them Jan. 7, the Browns will visit the winner of the Jan. 6 game at Indianapolis between the Texans and Colts.

Stefanski's goal, obviously, is to get as many healthy players to the postseason as possible. Despite facing the Bengals with a short-handed team, Driskel is fired up. It will be his first start since Dec. 24, 2022 when he played for Houston and led the Texans past the Titans, 19-14.

"I didn't know what was going to happen (when the Browns signed him off the Cardinals' practice squad,)" Driskel said Jan. 4. "When you get an opportunity to get on a 53-man roster, you take it. That's typically the fastest path to the field.

"We're going to go out and try to win this game. And that's what we've been doing all week. We've been working hard, getting to know our opponent, getting to know the game plan. But that's really been the message is go try to win a football game."

Driskel is not in the dark about the Browns' offense because the Arizona offensive coordinator, Drew Petzing, was the Browns' tight ends coach in 2020 and 2021. He was the Browns' quarterbacks coach last year and is using the same offensive system with the Cardinals that he learned under the supervision of Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.

BROWNS AT BENGALS

When: 1 p.m., Jan. 7

Where: Paycor Stadium, Cincinnati

Records: Bengals 8-8, Browns 11-5

TV: WOIO (Tom McCarthy, James Lofton and Jay Feely announcing)

Radio: WKRK-FM 92.3, WNCX-FM 98.5, WKNR-AM 850 (Jim Donovan and Nathan Zegura announcing)