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Pivotal showdown in Buckeye State

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008

Most of the country on Sunday won't see Cleveland and Cincinnati square off.

Heartbreak will be the last thing on people's minds.

The battle of Ohio will go virtually unnoticed in the Queen City when a pair of 0-3 teams try and get back on track.

Pro Bowl quarterbacks trying to reassert their former dominance, receivers vying to live up to their lauded resumes and head coaches hoping to still be roaming the sidelines next week sounds overly intriguing, doesn't it?

But you'll miss it because you don't get DirecTV (even though it's nearly impossible to do so on the Kenai Peninsula).

Not disappointed?

If last year's early season matchup is any indication, you will be.

Twelve touchdowns, 96 points and 1,085 yards highlighted a 51-45 Cleveland victory on the shores of Lake Erie, a game that jump-started the abbreviated career of quarterback Derek Anderson, who led the Browns to their only victory in the last seven intrastate meetings.

Shifting 250 miles southwest to the banks of the Ohio River should do the troubled pigskin slinger some good.

Anderson has struggled mightily through the first three games of the season, completing less than 50 percent of his passes (43-for-93) for 405 yards and two touchdowns while owning the second worst QB rating (43.5) in the NFL. He's also thrown a league-worst five interceptions, including two crucial picks in a 50-second, third-quarter span during a crushing 28-10 loss to Baltimore on Sunday.

After nearly being benched this week in favor of highly-touted savior-to-be Brady Quinn, the 25-year-old starter is now seeking a return to last year's surprising form that vaulted him into the upper echelon of fantasy football quarterbacks.

More importantly, though, he's hoping to finally guide the lowest scoring team (26 points) to a pivotal win that would even the all-time series at 35 apiece.

"That's what I expected," wide receiver Braylon Edwards said of Anderson remaining the starter. "Derek is our guy. Just because we had a bad three games, we won't turn away from him or abandon him. We have had a bad three games, not just him. We're behind him 100 percent and we're going to get better. He and I are going to work through this after practice, at home, do some extra things. We're going to get to a level where we can help this team out."

He's probably referring to last season, more specifically the Week 2 shootout in Cleveland, when Anderson was officially anointed the team's starter after completing 20-of-33 passes for 328 yards and five scores.

But on Dec. 23, with a playoff berth on the line, Anderson played the worst game of his professional career to that point, tossing five interceptions in a devastating 19-14 loss to Cincinnati.

At 10-6, the Browns ended up missing out on the postseason.

Winless after three games this season, although they've faced Dallas, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, three of the stingiest defenses known to man, they have a long way to go in the uncharacteristically balanced AFC.

"Everybody's struggling, even the best struggle," Anderson said. "Brett Favre didn't have the best game Monday night. He threw picks, he had mistakes. Nobody's perfect. It's just coming back and getting it fixed."

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer can relate. So can Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Johnson -- err Chad Ocho Cinco.

Also winless but favored by 3 1/2 points, the Bengals' struggles are overshadowed by that of their Buckeye State counterparts, considering Cincinnati finished 7-9 last season.

But there's no overlooking Palmer and Ocho Cinco's slow start.

Palmer has amassed a pedestrian 514 yards and passed for a single touchdown this season, hauled in by T.J. Houshmandzadeh in last week's 26-23 overtime setback to the undefeated New York Giants.

Ocho Cinco has basically matched the Spanish interpretation of his number, catching a mere eight balls for 88 yards.

He insists he's going explode soon.

"My time will come," Ocho Cinco said.

"I've had a season like this before -- I believe it was '06, a similar slow start like this. But once I break out, I really break out. So I'm being patient, just doing what I can, and when the opportunities come, I make the most of them."

Just like Cleveland, though, the Bengals have been the victim of staunch defenses thrown at them by Baltimore, Tennessee and New York.

Expect little from that side of the ball on Sunday, though.

Because as was the case last season, the best defense will be the more explosive offense.

BROWNS, 38-35.

Atlanta (plus 7 1/2) at Carolina

Carolina earns win No. 100.

PANTHERS, 31-24.

Denver (minus 11) at Kansas City

Chiefs have lost 12 in a row. BRONCOS, 35-17.

San Francisco (plus 5)

at New Orleans

Bush outduels Gore -- again. SAINTS, 31-21.

Arizona (even) at N.Y. Jets

Favre's streak was in jeopardy. So is coach Eric Mangini's job.

JETS, 24-17.

Minnesota (plus 3) at Tennessee

Battle of the 30-something backup quarterbacks. TITANS, 17-13.

Green Bay (even) at Tampa Bay

First meeting in three years between former division rivals.

BUCCANEERS, 28-24.

Houston (plus 9) at Jacksonville

Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor figured out how to run again last week. JAGUARS, 33-18.

San Diego (minus 9) at Oakland

LT reverts to MVP form.

CHARGERS, 38-19.

Buffalo (minus 9) at St. Louis

Trent Green. Enough said.

BILLS, 34-13.

Washington (plus 12) at Dallas

If Jason Taylor were playing, I'd go with Washington. He's not. So ... COWBOYS, 28-21.

Philadelphia (minus 3) at Chicago

Possible National League Championship Series preview. Chicago takes both. BEARS, 28-25.

Monday

Baltimore (plus 7) at Pittsburgh

Steelers have won 13 consecutive Monday night home games.

STEELERS, 20-10.

LAST WEEK: 8-8 (spread); 8-8 (straight up)

SEASON: 23-23-1 (spread); 25-22 (straight up)

Comments and criticisms may be sent to Clarion sports reporter Matthew Carroll at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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