Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5, 41.5 O/U) at Cleveland Browns
Not many NFL teams have ever ended a season with a “0” in the loss column (’76 Buccaneers, ’08 Lions). The Cleveland Browns (0-12 SU, 2-10 ATS) are looking to add their name to that prestigious list by going a “perfect” 0-16 and securing the top pick in next year’s draft. It won’t be easy. Standing in their way this week are the Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1 SU, 3-8-1 ATS), a team that would also be better served by losing out.
Ohio’s finest will do battle this Sunday (Dec. 11) at 1:00 PM ET at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Tongue removed from cheek, the Browns are going to be desperate for a win this Sunday. After hosting the Bengals, they have to travel to 7-6 Buffalo and then close against a better-than-their-record Chargers team and division rival Pittsburgh. If they don’t break the goose-egg at home against Cincinnati, it’s probably not happening. And no one wants the indignity of a winless season, especially first-year coach Hue Jackson.
This year is also a lost one for the Bengals. At 4-7-1, they have just a one-percent shot at making the playoffs, according to The New York Times’ playoff simulator (a.k.a. TheUpshot). They kept their slim playoff hopes alive last week (but hurt their draft stock) with a 32-14 thumping of the Eagles, their first win since Week 7.
The offense looked by far the best it has since AJ Green went down. Andy Dalton threw for 332 yards and two majors, while Brandon LaFell reeled in five catches for 95 yards and a score. The ground game was still pretty impotent behind a suspect o-line, however. Lead back Jeremy Hill managed just 33 yards on 23 carries (a 1.4 YPC average).
Hill hasn’t managed over four yards per carry since the last time he met the Browns, which – not so coincidentally – was that aforementioned Week 7 win. Thanks to a 78-yard TD scamper, the LSU product ended that game with 168 yards on the ground, his only 100-yard game of the season.
Cleveland’s offense is having similar problems on the ground. Isaiah Crowell had two 100-yard games in the first four weeks, but none since. Over the last two games, he has just 54 yards on 24 carries.
The run-game could get a bit of a boost from an unlikely source this week, though, as the once-mobile Robert Griffin III returns to Cleveland’s starting lineup. The former no. 2-overall pick hasn’t played since injuring his shoulder in Week 1. It remains to be seen how he’ll gel with the team’s talented receivers, Terrell Pryor and Corey Coleman, but his return at least offers some excitement for a fan-base just looking for a light at the end of the tunnel.
Most fans will be wishing the defense was getting a jolt, too. The unit is second-last in the league in scoring (29.3 PPG) and total yards (400.0 YPG) and hasn’t held a single opponent to fewer than 24 points.
There’s actually a decent chance they set new highs (or is it lows?) this week, though. It’s not because of any personnel or scheme changes, but because of the weather. The forecast on Sunday is calling for snow and the temperature is going to be in the 20s. The conditions could make throwing the ball extremely difficult, and Cincinnati’s ground game is atrocious, especially with Gio Bernard out.
Yes, the Bengals run-game torched Cleveland last time. But that came in much better conditions and when Green was healthy. The threat of the pass had to be respected.
Given how miserable Cincy is at running the ball this year, I like the Browns to keep it close in the frosty weather. Whether they do more than cover, I’ll leave that up to you.
Pick: Browns (+5.5)
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