Week 2 of the NFL season gets started with a classic AFC North rivalry game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns. The two teams split their meetings last season with the home team winning each game. The Browns are five-and-a-half point favorites at home over the Bengals for Thursday’s game (which kicks off at 8:20 PM EDT), with an over/under of 43.5 points.
The season opener couldn’t have gone much worse for Cleveland. That was to be expected, given the Browns opened up against reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns went behind 10-0 early and took a 38-6 shellacking when all was said and done. However, with three of their next four games at home, Cleveland has a golden opportunity to get back on track.
As for the Bengals, they suffered a disappointing loss of a different kind in Week 1. Randy Bullock missed a chip shot field goal late in the fourth quarter after an impressive drive from rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. The field goal should have sent the game to overtime. Instead, Cincinnati lost to the Chargers 16-13 despite holding a 13-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter. It was a crushing defeat, especially for a team that hits the road for four of their next five games.
No Joe Schmo
Burrow, the first-overall pick in the 2020 Draft, got his first taste of NFL action last week and had mixed results. He ran the ball for Cincinnati’s only touchdown of the game while completing 23 of 36 passes for a mere 193 yards with an interception. However, he showed great poise and confidence to put the Bengals in position for a potential game-tying field goal.
With A.J. Green and John Ross healthy, along with Tyler Boyd, Burrow has a full complement of wide receivers around him. With more experience, Burrow should be able to make good use of those targets. One thing that must improve is the Cincinnati offensive line, which allowed three sacks and struggled to free up Joe Mixon, who had 19 carries for just 69 yards.
The Cleveland defensive front will be critical to stopping the Bengals on Thursday. The Browns had a decent game against the Baltimore rushing attack, holding the Ravens to 107 yards, 45 of which came from Jackson. Despite finding the end zone twice, J.K. Dobbins combined with Mark Ingram for just 51 yards on 17 carries. If the Browns can keep the Cincinnati rushing attack in check, Myles Garrett and company could get into the backfield and put Burrow under pressure.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, quarterback Baker Mayfield picked up where he left off in 2019. Mayfield averaged less than five yards per pass attempt against Baltimore, throwing one touchdown and one interception. Odell Beckham Jr. was barely involved, catching three passes on ten targets for 22 yards. One bright spot for the Browns was the backfield tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The two combined for 132 yards on 23 carries.
The running game is one area where the Browns might be able to exploit the Cincinnati defense. The Bengals limited the Chargers through the air last week, only to surrender 144 yards on the ground from Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley. Facing Chubb and Hunt could be even more of a challenge, especially on a short week.
Gotta Have It
The loser of this game will fall to 0-2 on the season, which is a fate that both teams will be desperate to avoid. Despite taking a lopsided loss, the Browns were arguably more impressive than the Bengals in Week 1, as Cleveland ran the ball effectively and managed to stop the run. However, Burrow showed promise while Mayfield continued to regress. Mayfield’s struggles could make it difficult for the Browns to win, much less win convincingly.
Bet on the Bengals to cover the 5.5-point spread on Thursday.