It's almost time, football fans.
According to multiple reports, Johnny Manziel is in line to make his first NFL start for the Cleveland Browns Sunday in place of the ineffective Brian Hoyer.
Browns coach Mike Pettine named Hoyer the starter against the Indianapolis Colts for Week 14, days after inserting Manziel into a lopsided game against the Buffalo Bills. After further review, however, Pettine opted against going forward with the rookie largely because his team was still in the AFC playoff mix.
At 7-6 and a long-shot to make the postseason, Manziel's first start is expected to come against the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals, who stand a half-game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens entering Week 15.
Here are five things to know about Johnny Football possibly making his first start:
1. The Browns offense lacks firepower
Over the last four games, which have resulted in a 1-3 mark, Hoyer has thrown one touchdown compared to eight interceptions. As a result, Cleveland has averaged under 17 points per game during that stretch.
Interestingly, the offense has stalled despite the return of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Hoyer served as a capable game manager early on, but has lacked a knack for big plays passing down the field. Manziel should provide the Browns with just that if he isn't afraid to take some chances.
And come on. Is Johnny Football afraid of anything?
2. Johnny Vengeance
Manziel strikes us as a fiery player, one who lets the constant criticism sit in the back of his mind until he's ready to unleash it all. Well, in an uncharacteristic move Monday, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis added another jab at the rookie.
Asked about the potential of facing Manziel, Lewis referred to the quarterback as a "midget."
"You gotta go defend the offense. You don't defender the player," Lewis told WLW-AM in Cincinnati. "Particularly, a midget."
We expect Johnny Football to have a response to Lewis' comments, ideally on the football field.
3. Auditioning for 2015
You can downplay the significance of Manziel taking over under center in Week 15 with the Browns slipping out of playoff contention all you want. But any which way you dissect this situation, solid play out of Manziel over the next three games will put him atop the depth chart over the offseason and likely signal no contract for Hoyer.
Yes, Hoyer is in line for a new deal. Back at the start of November when Hoyer was dealing for the Browns, we wrote about how a Thursday night win against these same Bengals could possibly lift the Browns to the playoffs and perhaps lock Hoyer into a starting job beyond this year.
Clearly, Hoyer's fortunes have been reversed. The 29-year-old soon-to-be free agent could be available if Manziel can play well in his absence.
4. The NFL world has patiently awaited this moment
Twice we've seen Johnny Football relieve Hoyer in mop up duty, and the last - in Week 13 - left us wanting more ... much more.
Manziel took over for Hoyer with about 12 minutes left in a 20-3 game against Buffalo. The former Heisman Trophy winner proceeded to lead the offense on an 80-yard scoring drive, capped by a very Manziel-esque 10-yard run to the end zone in which Manziel put it all out on the line to score.
For all of the off-the-field antics he has become notorious for, we forget that he originally rose into stardom because of his electric style of play on the field. Manziel reminded us of just that in his first real action under center two Sundays ago.
5. LeBron, Browns fans want this
Browns fans just want to win, right?
Well, not exactly. This franchise has been hamstrung for so long, a constant bottom-dweller in the AFC North while the Steelers and Ravens and now the Bengals have taken their turns making deep playoff runs and winning Lombardi trophies. All while Cleveland has settled for Derek Anderson's one magical season and putting all their hope and faith in none other than Brady Quinn.
At 7-6, the Browns are already enjoying their best season since 2007 when the aforementioned Anderson was leading the team to a strong regular-season mark, which did not include a trip to the postseason.
Browns fans want more. They need more. They deserve more.
Hoyer helped lead the team to this record, but they want to see who their team invested a first-round pick in. Heck, so does LeBron James, who's a buddy of Manziel's.
This team isn't going to make the playoffs, but they're still optimistic. Not because of Justin Gilbert ... because of Johnny Football.
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