Breaking the Bletcherous Bengals: Browns-Bengals Preview

Another week, another similar script. The Browns come into this week reeling after losing a game they could have won last week against Jacksonville, but that’s in the past! Josh Gordon practiced this week, and although he can’t play, things might just be looking up as the Browns attack the final third of their schedule with one eye on a key off-season. The Browns (0-10) come in looking for that elusive first win, while the Bengals (4-6) look to keep their playoff hopes alive, just one game out of the second wild card slot in the AFC.

First Meeting

The Bengals came to Cleveland in early October for a week four match-up, and dominated the game from start to finish winning 31-7. Andy Dalton went for 286 yards and four touchdowns, while tight end Tyler Kroft had six receptions for 68 yards and two tochdowns. The Browns struggled on both sides of the ball, as DeShone Kizer played poorly completing 18 of 34 passes for 118 yards and an interception.

Are the Browns Favored?

No they are not. The Browns were favored at home by three points in week four when the Bengals won in  a rout 31-7. This time in Cincinnati the Bengals are favored by eight points.

Series History

With their win in Cleveland earlier this year, the Bengals lead the all-time series 49-39. Cincinnati has dominated the rivalry in recent years. The Browns’ last win came in 2014, a 24-3 victory in Cincinnati that took the Browns to 6-4, only to finish that campaign 7-9. Cleveland hasn’t swept the season series since 2002.

The Bengals have continued the same uneven play they displayed prior to the week four meeting in Cleveland. They’re 2-3 since their week six bye, but a big win in Denver last week has the fan base feeling hopeful.

Bengals Players of Note

Seventh year quarterback Andy Dalton has been up and down in 2017. The signal caller is 183-of-296 for 2,158 yards, 16 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Controversial rookie running back Joe Mixon has emerged as the leader in a crowded backfield, taking 127 carries for 370 yards (2.91 yards/carry). Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill remain weapons in the backfield, though their looks are down. AJ Green has continued his dominant play at the wide receiver position in 2017, totaling 48 catches for 743 yards and six touchdowns. Green’s 6’4” frame will, as always, present a challenge for the Browns’ defensive backs, and the Browns have to avoid letting Green find his way onto anyone other than Jason McCourty. On defense, the Bengals are led by Nick Vigil’s 78 totals tackles, and defensive tackle Geno Atkins has recorded a team leading six sacks.

Browns Players of Note

Quarterback DeShone Kizer has very much looked like a rookie in his first NFL season. He has had some performances in 2017, but has had too many games like last week where he is too inconsistent to keep the Browns moving the ball on a regular basis. Hue Jackson made it clear after the loss to Jacksonville that Kizer will keep the starting position through the end of the 2017 season in an effort to see what they truly have in the young quarterback. Kizer’s play will be one of the key subplots of the remaining games for the Browns as an important off-season approaches where they will most likely have the first overall pick in a quarterback full class, and some key names are available in the free agent market.

Duke Johnson and David Njoku will also be key in the match-up this Sunday. Johnson–who leads the Browns with 46 catches for 414 yards and two touchdowns–will hopefully be a focal point for the Browns as he was left with only six touches last week as the Browns struggled to move the ball on offense. David Njoku had one catch for 13 yards on his lone target, and his lack of inclusion has also been mystery. Duke Johnson has been on the field for 53% of the Browns offensive snaps this year, while Njoku has been on the field for 44%. Two of the Browns biggest offensive play makers barely touching the field for 50% of the team’s snaps is a problem that remains without an answer.

For two in-state NFL franchises, this one has felt like anything other than an actual rivalry of late. The failed AJ McCarron trade makes this game and rivalry even more awkward than it had been previously, as one side of the equation failed to make the necessary moves to secure the deal. The Bengals certainly have more to play for than the Browns do at this time, but the hope is that they can make this one a game. Something has to change for this Browns organization, and a big win over a Cincinnati team with everything to play for would show the sort of positive signs Hue Jackson needs to keep his job. Unfortunately imagining a reality where that happens seems tougher to believe with each passing week. Then again, the hope of Josh Gordon next week means we get a Browns holiday miracle!

My Prediction: Browns 21, Bengals 17.