Hope you enjoyed the week of freedom. Sweet, merciful freedom without the three-hour Sunday commitment of viewing what appears to be football-like programming despite a seemingly predetermined outcome.
The Cleveland Browns might be a bit difficult to recognize coming out of the bye week. All four of their primary quarterbacks are healthy and have been taking snaps this week – most fans believe Robert Griffin III will start the game. Derrick Kindred, on the other hand, broke his ankle during the bye week in what has been classified as a non-football injury. The team has yet to disclose the full narrative, so whether Kindred makes it onto the ever-expanding list of bone-headed Browns injuries is not quite determined.
With four games left on the schedule, the Browns still sit in poll position for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft ahead of the one-win San Francisco 49ers who managed to lose by 20 last week to the pitiful Chicago Bears. If the Browns are to squander that high asset (and avoid the infamy of losing every single contest), then this upcoming game against the Cincinnati Bengals might be their best opportunity to do so. The Bengals will be breaking their five-year streak of losing during the NFL’s Wild Card weekend.
Outside the painted lines
What are the matchups in any sport left in 2016 that you are most looking forward to viewing?
Craig: For me it’s mostly Cavs-Warriors on Christmas Day, but that’s not all. I’m honestly anticipating the Browns playing an 0-14 game on Christmas Eve against the Chargers. That could be a gripping affair as the tension mounts with losing every game in the entire season. Following that on New Year’s Day, the Browns could be 0-15 with a date in Pittsburgh against the hated Steelers. That game won’t have any magnitude of importance if the Browns have a win by then, but if they’re 0-15 with a chance to go 0-16 it will be fascinating, if not completely morbid.
Joe: I am looking forward to three matchups. The first one might not happen, but could. It is John Carroll versus Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl. That would be fun to see. The next one is Cavs versus Warriors on Christmas. I can’t wait for that one. And the final matchup is Ohio State versus Clemson on New Year’s Eve. That is a great matchup that can go either way.
Michael: Obviously, the New Year’s Eve matchup between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers should be circled on everyone’s calendars even if they are not fans of either team. That could well end up being the best bowl game played due to how the teams match up with each other. I do wish the NCAA would move the CFP semi-finals off of NYE though. Outside that colossal game, I always look forward to the pageantry of Army versus Navy. Army out-did themselves with their uniform designs for this year. Oregon & Maryland could learn a thing or two:
Josh: While my list could be a big one if I included all teams in all sports, I will just stick to Cleveland and Ohio State. The Cavs-Warriors on Christmas Day will be fun, not only because of the rematch of the past two Finals but also because the matchup will feature two of the best teams in the NBA and could be a preview of the 2017 Finals. Ohio State-Clemson in the Final Four on New Year’s Eve will be one heck of a game. Not only because the winner advances to the national championship, but also because both teams have plenty of NFL talent that Browns fans should keep an eye on. I’m not including the Browns in this because until they win a game, I will not look forward to watching them.
Scott: Oh, man…Where to start. Top of the list is Cavaliers-Warriors on Christmas Day. It’s required viewing for any sports fan and I’ll judge anyone who doesn’t watch every minute. Next up will be Ohio State-Clemson on New Year’s Eve. Similar judgment implications, but the criteria is limited to football fans. Giants-Cowboys this Sunday night should be really, really good. I won’t watch, but the 49ers-Rams rematch in a few weeks should have some solid implications on the Browns’ draft status. Had this run on Thursday, Clippers-Warriors would have made the list. We can add the 8 p.m. Christmas Day game (T’Wolves-Thunder) to the list as well just because of Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell Westbrook sharing a basketball floor.
Pat: Let’s get the obvious one out of the way, which is Cavs-Warriors on Christmas Day. I guess I am looking forward to Browns-Steelers to close out this abominable season. I know the Browns will likely get their teeth kicked in, but I will never let go of hope, and I really hate the Steelers. Finally, I’m looking forward to seeing my alma mater, the Virginia Tech Hokies, match up against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Belk Bowl. There’s always joy in seeing my team take down a vaunted SEC team.1
Dave: Browns versus Zero. Please win one game.
Are there any movie releases that you plan on attending this month? Or stream/DVD releases you are waiting on?
Craig: It’s all about Star Wars. I’m sure there are other films that I’ll want to see, but they’re all in the wake of Star Wars this holiday season. Rogue One has the chance to be the beginning of an expanded Star Wars universe that will fuel popular culture for the next 50 years. We’ll see.
Joe: I am looking forward to Rogue One. It will be interesting to see the different perspective of the Star Wars franchise.
Michael: This question was added specifically for Rogue One. I don’t even know any other movies that come out this month, nor have a desire to leave the confines of my home to see them. But, Rogue One looks fantastic, and, more importantly, opens up the entire Star Wars expanded universe to be part of the accepted movie canon. There is so much good writing that my sons are constantly reading from the Star Wars EU, and the idea that they might now start picking and choosing the best of those stories is a fantastic one. Just thinking about that opening sequence in New Hope and now getting to fill in the blanks about how Princess Leia got those plans is exciting.
Josh: Honestly, I’m not a big movie guy. I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched a movie, actually, let alone go to a movie theater. While I love classics like Dumb and Dumber, Step Brothers, Night at the Roxbury, Elf, and Forrest Gump, among others, I’d rather watch sporting events than a movie.
Scott: I barely have time for television; the last thing I have time for is spending two-plus hours watching movies. Give me Christmas Vacation and I’m good.
Pat: I’ll go with Rogue One, even though I’m not nearly as excited to see it as one of the canonized Star Wars films. I’ll also add Office Christmas Party to this list. It might very well be horrifically bad, but I like those actors a lot and the previews slay me. I suppose it would only be natural if every funny scene from the movie was in the trailer.
Dave: I recently got Dolphin Emulator, so I’ll be spending my free time playing Mario All-Star Baseball from the GameCube.
How much of your time do you still spend on the Browns in December? How does that compare to your college basketball, college football, NBA, and even MLB Hot Stove time spent?
Craig: I’ll spend more time on the Cavaliers this holiday season. The Christmas Day game is going to be fun as a spectacle, regardless of outcome. It would be college football except that we have to have practically a two-month layoff before they play their bowl games and playoffs.
Joe: I am really in on the MLB Hot Stove, especially with the Indians being in the hunt. The Browns are still probably my main focus in December, but definitely not at the height it was earlier in the season. Cavs basketball and college football are very high on my attention list, while college basketball is not yet peaking my interest.
Michael: I wish it were more because the Browns would need to be relevant for that to be the case. While I haven’t watched a single NBA or college basketball game, I have spent more time watching college football this season than NFL as I started scouring film. Better to watch prospects rather than what seemed like a pointless season in the NFL. I have watched all of the Browns games, but I haven’t been following up as much as I would like with articles due to moving my time to discussions of the future. Maybe “in the future” the Browns will matter beyond their fanbase. But hey, if the Indians do make a splashy signing, then my need for analysis ahead of the NFL Draft season will be fulfilled anyway.
Josh: As little as possible. If they are the only game on television during that specific time slot, I’ll watch the Browns because I love football and I have Terrelle Pryor on my fantasy team. But, besides that, I’d rather waste my time elsewhere. If it weren’t for fantasy football, I wouldn’t be as big of a NFL fan outside of rooting for former Ohio State Buckeyes. I would take a college football Saturday over a NFL Sunday any day of the week. I try to watch as many Cavs games as possible, but I won’t get really into college basketball – outside of the Buckeyes and big-time games – until March. MLB Hot Stove rumors are always the best, especially when I see people freak out on Twitter.
Scott: Collegiate sports are always on the backburner for me. My time will be largely spent watching the NBA (I try to casually watch at least one game a night) with the NFL falling behind based on only being on three nights per week. I’ll check in on some Hot Stove stuff here and there, but transactional rumors are so ephemeral that they get little in the way of emotional resources.
Pat: Being that my main responsibility at WFNY is Browns content, I’ll give the brown-nosing answer of, “The vast majority of my time.” I will watch a ton of Cleveland Cavaliers and Virginia Tech men’s basketball games, though. I’m pretty excited about the Hokies this year. Buzz Williams has put together a team in a style that is very reminiscent of an NBA roster, and I’m excited to see how they do once they are thrown into the ACC boiler.
Dave: I’ll watch the remaining Browns games. Not sure about Christmas Eve, we’ve got traditions for that so I don’t think lousy football will be a part of it. I’ll watch SOME Cavs, but I like to use this time to de-sports for a bit.
Is this 4-7-1 Bengals team falling on some hard luck in 2016 or is it a fundamentally worse team than the ones that have made the playoffs for five straight years (and six of seven)?
Craig: It’s some bad luck, but they’ve built in a tenuous manner as well. They’re relying on an aging base of talent and soon they could transition from being that perennial playoff contender to the mediocre 6-to-8 win team that muddles their way through life year-in and year-out.
Joe: I think they are fundamentally worse. After going to the playoffs the past five years, the Bengals have not really made the next step and have really not upgraded their roster. The players on the roster are getting older and regressing, so without any significant infusion of new talent, the team will continue to struggle.
Michael: The Bengals are 1-3-1 since we last saw them including a tie against the Redskins, close losses to the Giants, Bills, and Ravens before destroying the Eagles. For the season, their net point differential is just -14 despite their record, they are +2 in turnover margin, and they are about league average in yards per play on both offense and defense. The Bengals are worse than the four straight double-digit win teams that preceded 2016, but their profile notes they should be .500, so they have had a bit of bad luck (or are bad at finishing games – there is some analytical determination to be done there).
Josh: Man, just when I thought we could get through another roundtable without talking about that team. Losing AJ Green was big, for obvious reasons. That being said, this Bengals team has been a disappointment this season. There is some bad luck there though due to the injuries, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Scott: At worse, this Bengals team should be 5-6. Had that overtime against Washington not been the sloppiest display of football in recent memory, they could be .500. The issues are, however, very bizarre to pinpoint. While they’ve certainly had their fare share of injuries (missing Tyler Eifert early and A.J. Green more recently), their offense has been above average overall. They’ve been the league’s best in stopping short-yardage runs from being turned in to first downs, but are among the league’s worst in allowing big runs that go well beyond the second-line of defense. And while guys like Geno Atkins have always given the Browns fits, they’re in the bottom third of the league in adjusted sack rate. I’d argue that the Bengals have always been a bit of a fraud when it comes to their recent finishes that have led to playoff appearances, but all those first-round exits do enough for me.
Pat: I know it sounds crazy given that he’s leading the zero-win Browns, but I think losing Hue Jackson has set Andy Dalton back as a passer, and I think the Bengals’ offense is more predictable without him. Gio Bernard has been much less effective in Ken Zampese’s offense.
Dave: To be honest with you, I’m more concerned about coming up with new, fresh jokes about player names than how they’ve been playing. I just don’t like teams with ties.
How much is Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense limited if A.J. Green is out? Is there any reason the Bengals should risk Green coming back against the Browns or should they just use the week to further develop Tyler Boyd?
Craig: A.J. Green has nothing to play for unless there are some incentives in his contract that I don’t know about. That being the case, if I’m running the team I don’t bother pushing Green to return. The offense is more limited, but the Bengals can still do enough damage to crush the Browns without any issues.
Joe: There is no reason for A.J. Green to see the field for the rest of the season and especially against the Browns. Developing the rest of the roster should be the focus.
Michael: The Bengals are in a similar spot as the Browns now in that they should be looking to develop talent for future seasons. They know what they have in A.J. Green, so there is no reason to even think about rushing him back. They might as well rest him for the remainder of the season if they are even a little concerned (similar to what the Cavs would do with Kyrie Irving early in his career). Their offense does get limited when Dalton doesn’t have his bail-out option, but the lack of a crutch could be good for him and the young receivers. Boyd has been consistently performing over the last five weeks as he has averaged seven targets with four receptions and 46 yards.
Josh: Have you seen the Browns’ secondary? I don’t think Mount Union would even have trouble passing the ball around against this team.
Scott: The Bengals offense will be more limited, sure, but it’s not like they have anything to play for. Helping matters is that the Browns simply cannot stop opposing tight ends and Tyler Eifert is very, very good.
Pat: Oh, they should definitely sit A.J. Green in this game. I have no biases here whatsoever. In all seriousness, I do think it would be prudent to rest Green if he is not 100% healthy. The Bengals don’t have a real chance to make the playoffs, and it would be wise to protect their asset.
Dave: If I’m the Bengals, there is no reason to bring AJ Green back if there is ANY chance of complicating an injury. Joe Haden has always been good against him, and they are playing for absolutely nothing.
The Bengals defense has chosen to have more people in coverage than attacking the QB in 2016, which they have had some success doing. With the Browns OL struggles and potentially starting the mobile RG3, should they continue that approach or put pressure on RG3?
Craig: I think you just have to allow the Browns’ offense to make mistakes. I’d be playing a contain and just rushing my normal amount of pressure. You can always commit to the blitz later on with reasonable confidence that you can get to the QB or flush him out and force him to make decisions on the run. I’d force the Browns to prove they can move the ball and score in the normal rhythm of an offense before I go crazy designing exotic blitzes to disrupt them.
Joe: The Bengals defense should stick with their philosophy and have more players in coverage. The Browns offensive line will still struggle even against the fewer rushers. With RG3 possibly starting, more people in coverage could cause him to make more mistakes, like trying to force the ball in where it shouldn’t be thrown.
Michael: Hard to argue with a defensive scheme that has allowed them to hold opposing QBs to the eighth best QBrating (87.6) despite only garnering 22 sacks on the year (24th). Sending four might be enough to put pressure on the Browns anyway with how the OL has played in recent weeks, but the Bengals would be wise to keep one of their LBers as a QB-spy. Griffin tends to forget he has the ability to throw once he starts scrambling, so they will need to cut off his runs. The one big advantage the Browns have here though is that the Bengal LBer corps is not particularly fast.
Josh: They can rush two guys and still put pressure on the Browns’ backfield, as long as those two players rush on the side opposite of Joe Thomas. The Browns o-line has been horrible all season. Add the injuries on top of that and it’s a mess.
Scott: Given how bad the Browns’ offensive line is, I’d argue the Bengals should be able to drop into coverage while still applying pressure to Robert Griffin III very similar to what the Giants did a few weeks ago. So many times throughout the season, the Browns passing game has fallen victim to four- and five-man rushes. I see no reason for the Bengals to alter their scheme unless the Browns prove to be worthy of such early on.
Pat: I would probably continue that approach, honestly. Is Robert Griffin III the type of quarterback who can sit in the pocket and pick your defense apart when given time to throw? I suggest that he is not. Instead, commit extra help to quell the Browns’ deep threats. Besides, if you are the Bengals, you can get plenty of pressure with four pass rushers.
Dave: If any defensive coordinator in the NFL decides NOT to pressure RG III until he can prove he can handle it, they should be fired.
- Editor’s Note: Does Arkansas qualify as a vaunted SEC team? [↩]