By Conor Perrett
There is a treat in the AFC North where Cincinnati will travel to Cleveland for a Halloween edition of Monday Night Football.
With both teams traditionally dressed up for the occasion in their famous orange, it will be interesting to see what kits will be on show. Both teams have had difficult starts to the season. The Browns are looking to snap a four-game losing streak, while the Bengals arrive after winning four of their last five games.
Surprisingly, they are without a win in Cleveland since 2017.
Cleveland Browns (2-5)
Power Rankings – 23rd
DVOA Rankings: Offence – 8th, Defence – 28th, ST – 23rd; Overall – 15th
The Browns currently sit at 2-5 and as I mentioned in my Power Rankings last week, this game is a must-win if the Browns are to reach their goals of the playoffs. Since 1990, only the 2020 Washington Football Team has made the playoffs after starting the season 2-6 and they had the benefit of playing in an awful division at the time. Cleveland are not going to get that benefit with the Bengals and Ravens in this division, so a fast turnaround will be needed in order to rescue the season.
If the Browns needed any hope, they are better than their record suggests and have possessed a top-10 offence for the majority of the season with a journeyman QB in Jacoby Brissett at the helm. Nick Chubb leads the league in rushing yards and although his partner in crime Kareem Hunt may not be there for much longer, tonight expect a two-headed monster.
The main game-play for the Browns will be slowing down Joe Burrow. Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney will need to be disruptive off the edge and cause turnovers if that is to happen. Without having the threat of facing Ja’Marr Chase, they might have a better chance than most people expect.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-3)
Power Rankings – 4th
DVOA Rankings: Offence – 13th, Defence – 6th, ST – 17th: Overall – 6th
Cincinnati are rising fast and look back to their Super Bowl form of last season and are coming on strong after a dominating win over the Falcons last week. Their defence has been elite all year, while the offence is getting back to their best scoring an average of 32.5 points over the last two weeks.
The big story this week coming out of Cincinnati is the loss of Ja’Marr Chase to a hip injury. Chase is the Bengals No.1 man and his connection with Burrows is among the best in the league. His loss over the next month will be massive, but Cincinnati still have a crew of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, who they will be looking to step up into that role.
Joe Mixon also mustn’t be forgotten as Cleveland has allowed a league-high 13 rushing touchdowns this season, which is good news for Mixon and his fantasy managers. Cincinnati will have a lot of areas to exploit on this Cleveland defence, with all the weapons they have in their arsenal.
Week 9 – Browns @ Bengals – 41-16 Browns Win
Week 18 – Bengals @ Browns – 16 – 21 Browns Win
In last year’s two divisional games, the Browns were able to win both match-ups and sweep the Bengals. Fast forward a season and the Browns are now with a brand new passing attack, with Jacoby Brissett and Amari Cooper coming in.
The Bengals on the other hand made it an emphasis to improve their offensive line and give Burrow more protection for their explosive offence.
Both match-ups between either teams’ offence and defence look intriguing, but it’s perhaps the Bengals offence vs Cleveland’s defence that will have the biggest outcome in this game.
On paper it looks a bit one-sided with how disappointing the Browns have played on that side of the ball this season, compared to the Bengals offensive weapons. But when you look further in you can see signs of hope for Cleveland. Burrow and co are best when they face man-coverage defence. Facing zone-coverage defence is where the Bengals’s passing attack can struggle with and that’s exactly what Cleveland runs.
One would think the Bengals are prepared for that, but if Garrett and Clowney can cause some pressure, it may throw Cincinnati’s game-plan out the window.
If the Browns want a shot at winning this game they must keep pounding the ball on the ground with Nick Chub,b like he’s been doing all season. Controlling the time of possession will be a key but diverting Cincinnati off their plan of attack will all be easier said than done.
Overall, I feel this matchup is closer than it looks on paper with Cleveland having a better shout at winning this game than they have been credited for. But this Browns’ defence doesn’t fill me with enough confidence to keep the Bengals offence at bay and if Cleveland falls behind early, their lack of passing attack hampers their chances to get themselves back into games.
Bengals 23, Browns 20