Must-win Mangini: Sunday starts a must-win stretch for Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini. The Browns have played solidly recently, going 4-2 in their past six games. But at 5-7, Mangini must continue to pad his record to increase his job security. The good news for Cleveland is it has two of the NFL's worst teams coming up in the Buffalo Bills (2-10) and Cincinnati Bengals (2-10). The bad news is both games are on the road and Mangini likely cannot drop either contest. Cleveland will finish its season as big underdogs against the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3). Therefore, seven wins or more will make for a tough decision by Browns president Mike Holmgren.
Cleveland's Peyton Hillis is closing on his first 1,000-yard season.
Hillis for 1,000: Browns tailback Peyton Hillis has a very good chance to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career this weekend. Hillis has 962 rushing yards, and Buffalo has the league's worst run defense (170.9 rushing yards per game). It's a good matchup for the Browns, so expect them to pound the ball with Hillis. Bad weather in Buffalo also could be a factor.
Avoiding a letdown: The Steelers and Ravens played another brutal and emotional game last week, adding to their heated rivalry. Now both teams must avoid a hangover. The Steelers (9-3) host the struggling Bengals on Sunday. Pittsburgh, which is banged up at quarterback, tight end and the offensive line, is 6-2 in the regular season since 2006 after playing the Ravens. Baltimore, trying to bounce back after the tough loss to the Steelers, will play Monday against the Houston Texans (5-7), who are well-rested with 11 days to prepare. Baltimore is 4-4 since 2006 after playing Pittsburgh the week prior.
Dunlap gaining steam: Keep an eye on Bengals second-round pick Carlos Dunlap, who is starting to turn the corner. The rookie defensive end has 4.5 sacks in the past five games and has added a much-needed boost to Cincinnati's abysmal rush. The recent hot streak was enough for Dunlap to take the team lead in sacks this season. Safety Chris Crocker, who was put on injured reserve Nov. 22 with a knee injury, remains second on the team with two sacks. Dunlap was a first-round talent who entered the draft with questions about his motivation and motor. The Bengals are finally getting Dunlap to play hard more consistently.
Big game for T.O.? Bengals receiver Terrell Owens is having a great season, and he could be in for another big game against the Steelers. In the Nov. 8 game against Pittsburgh, he caught 10 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau traditionally prefers to take away Chad Ochocinco, which provides single coverage on other Bengals. In the first meeting, Owens got the best of Pittsburgh defensive backs in one-on-one matchups. If Pittsburgh keeps the same strategy, cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden must play much better against Owens.