Caging Cincinnati’s Clumsy Cats: Browns-Bengals Preview

“Misery loves company” or so the saying goes. Normally sports fans welcome the pain of other cities to make themselves feel better about their sporting lot in life. In the NFL, however, specifically for the purposes of a high draft pick, misery is just fine by itself thank you very much. In a season that more and more appears to be a rerun of 2016 with a different cast, the Cleveland Browns’ (0-3) desire to win may wane as the desire for a high draft pick waxes. Still, exceptions can be made for in-state rivals the Cincinnati Bengals (0-3).

Are the Browns Favored?

Nope. After somehow emerging as favorites last week, the Browns have returned to underdog status despite the fact that they are playing at home and their opponent is also winless. Cincinnati comes in as three point favorites in the first round of the Battle of Ohio.

Series History

The Bengals lead the all-time series 48-39. Cincinnati has dominated the rivalry of late, winning five straight and six of seven. The Browns’ last win came in 2014 in a prime time 24-3 victory in The Jungle. Cleveland hasn’t swept the season series since 2002.

Through the season’s first three weeks, the Bengals’ have struggled on the field leading to changes off it. Baltimore stole their lunch money in a 20-0 drubbing to open the year. The Texans then took a hard-fought 13-9 Thursday night victory. After two weeks and nine total points (zero touchdowns), the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. There is reason to believe that if the season continues tipping down he will not be the last coach fired. Against Green Bay last week the Bengals finally scored a touchdown and at one point led 21-7 before coughing up the lead and losing 27-24 in overtime.

Bengals Players of Note

Seventh year quarterback Andy Dalton is struggling so far in 2017. The signal caller is 57-of-93 for 606 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions. Controversial rookie running back Joe Mixon has been the workhorse out of the backfield so far, taking 35 carries for 107 yards (3.06 yards/touch). Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill remain weapons in the backfield, though their looks are down. Rookie wide receiver John Ross, the ninth overall pick from Washington, remains questionable for Sunday’s game. A knee injury held him out of action during Week 3, and figures to keep him in street clothes again. AJ Green, the stalwart wide receiver, continues his dominance in 2017 pulling down 20 receptions for 252 yards and a touchdown. Green’s 6’4” frame will, as always, present a challenge for the Browns’ defensive backs. On defense, defensive tackle Geno Atkins has recorded thirteen tackles and leads the club with three sacks.

Browns Players of Note

Quarterback DeShone Kizer has very much looked like a rookie in his first three NFL games. It would be unwise to write him off as a bust in September, but the early statistics do leave a bit to be desired: 57-of-108 passing, 646 yards, three touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Right now I’m most concerned about the interceptions. The TD:INT ratio is gaudy, but a couple of the picks were tipped so it becomes more difficult to blame Kizer. In a “Baby Steps” mentality, I would like to see Kizer go turnover-free against the Bengals. Even in a loss, it would be encouraging to see Kizer make smart decisions with the ball and keep it away from thieving Bengal paws

The good news is someone has to win this game…right? Not necessarily. Allow me to speak to the merits of the tie. A Browns game has not resulted in a tie since a 10-10 stalemate with the Chiefs in 1989. The Bengals, on the other hand, have participated in a tie game each in 2008, 2014, and 2016. Considering how these teams have struggled so far in 2017 with rampant dysfunction and disappointing play, a tie feels like the most poetic conclusion for a battle between brothers.

“The Battle of Ohio” should be a bigger deal. Ohio and Pennsylvania are the only two states with exactly two NFL teams, and only in the former do both teams play in the same division. Browns fans would love nothing more than for Cleveland and Cincinnati to enter Week 17 locked at 10-5 with a division title on the line and a national TV audience waiting. Unfortunately the Bengals’ dominance of the series, the Browns’ seeming endless incompetence, and Cincinnati’s newfound helplessness turn this contest into just another Sunday by the lake. If the Bengals’ fortunes continue to plummet it may spell doom for head coach Marvin Lewis and possibly Andy Dalton. The idea of Cleveland and Cincinnati slap fighting for a better side of the cellar may not make for compelling drama, but the clubs’ equivalent ineptitude does at least portend a close game, maybe even a tie.