Browns at Bengals
What state is round at both ends and tall in the middle?
All jokes aside, when’s the last time you can remember a battle of Buckeye State rivals Cleveland and Cincinnati this late in the season meaning so much? How much? Well, in case you haven’t checked the standings lately, there’s nary a team in the AFC North with a losing record, and a victory here is especially important because division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh play the Titans and Jets, respectively, this week (draw your own conclusions).
So, who do you like? The best way to compare any two teams is by looking at what they’ve done so far this season. Statistically, there’s not much to choose from; somewhat surprisingly, they’ve both relied more on offence while displaying mediocre defence (particularly against the run, where only Green Bay ranks lower than them). Cleveland had a “you-can’t-just-show-up” loss to Jacksonville, while Cincy has that “kicker-missed-an-easy-one” tie with Carolina to haunt them. No matter how much he wins, Brian Hoyer has to deal with all the attention paid to his backup; Andy Dalton could throw for 600 yards and 8 TDs and the first thing you’d read/hear would be, “Yeah, but he chokes in the playoffs.”
The main difference I can see in these two teams right now is how the media perceives them. The Bengals entered this season as a frontrunner, and until a Week 5 shellacking at Foxborough, were in the conversation as one of the top teams in the league. Since then, they’ve struggled, and are generally seen as underachievers. The Browns, on the other hand, perennial also-rans, are looked upon as overachievers.
If you’re looking for an psychological edge in this game, I guess it depends on whether you’d rather put your money on the relaxed team with lower expectations, or the defending division champ with its back against the wall. I liked the way the Bengals defended their turf two weeks ago against the Ravens, and I expect them to enter this contest with the mindset that they have something to lose, something that’s worth keeping. Oh, and if that’s not enough for you, there’s another thing these two teams have in common. Cleveland and Cincinnati each employ game-changing, dominant WRs. You know who they are. Only one is playing tonight. Winner: Bengals
Mr. Silver Picks: Bengals