Bengals still hoping to put crimp in Browns' postseason plans

Updated: December 21, 2007, 5:19 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

A recurring hamstring problem that forced him to the sideline for three games earlier this season will keep Cincinnati Bengals starting tailback Rudi Johnson out of action again for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.

The game is key for the playoff hopes of the Browns, who still have a chance to win the AFC North, or capture a wild-card berth. A loss in Cincinnati would deliver the division title to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won at St. Louis on Thursday night.

Although the Bengals have been eliminated from postseason contention, they would like nothing better than to dent the playoff aspirations of their intrastate rivals.

A workhorse the past three seasons, the typically durable Johnson has appeared in only 11 games, with nine starts, in 2007. He has carried 170 times for 497 yards and three touchdowns.

In the past three seasons, Johnson averaged 346.3 rushes, 1,407 yards and 12 touchdowns. No back in the league logged more carries in that stretch, and Johnson had the fourth-most rushing yards and fifth-most rushing touchdowns the past three seasons.

Johnson, 28, played every game the previous three seasons and missed only three starts.

In what has been a disappointing season for both Johnson and the Bengals, he will finish the 2007 campaign with the fewest attempts, yards and touchdowns since 2003.

Coach Marvin Lewis, who confirmed on Friday that Johnson will not play against the Browns, declined to say who will start in his place.

The likely starter is Kenny Watson, a versatile six-year veteran who leads the Bengals in rushing, with 564 yards. But youngster DeDe Dorsey has gotten increased playing time in recent weeks, and he might split the carries with Watson on Sunday afternoon.

Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.