The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns franchises could not be farther apart in terms of success. Yet, Cleveland has managed to be a thorn in Cincinnati's side. Not since 2011 have the Bengals been able to sweep the Browns, and that's often cost them a chance to be better positioned in the playoffs. In 2012 and 2014, the Bengals missed out on winning the AFC North by one game. In 2013, Cincinnati missed out on a first-round bye by one game.
The Bengals are once again in position to not only win their division, but earn one of the top two seeds in the AFC and get a first-round bye in the process. However, a loss to Cleveland on Sunday would be major hit to earning one of those top seeds, making this game as critical as any down the stretch of this season.
However, the Bengals will likely have to play this week without the services of Tyler Eifert, who's become one of the NFL's best tight ends in just his third season in the league. he's also been a go-to weapon for Andy Dalton and the Bengals' offense, as ESPN's Coley Harvey writes:
Through Week 12 last season, the Bengals averaged 348.6 total yards of offense per game, and 223 yards of passing offense. This season, they have collected about 30 more total yards per game, and about 40 more passing yards per game.
Against the Rams, Dalton was near-perfect passing between the numbers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he was 13-for-14 with two touchdowns when throwing across the middle. That came after he entered the game with an NFL-best 94.7 Total QBR on such passes.
Still, the Bengals are clearly better than the Browns, who will be going with a new starting quarterback this week in Austin Davis. In order to help not put the weight of winning this game on Davis' shoulders, the Browns must run the ball better than they have thus far. Here's what ESPN's Pat McManamon has to say about the game:
The Browns are averaging a league-worst 74.5 rushing yards per game and are tied for the league low at 3.4 yards per carry. But their 22.2 carries per game ranks 30th in the league. The less a team runs the ball, the less it gains.
But as Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson writes, Cincinnati's defense is ready to stone Cleveland on the ground.
The Bengals are allowing 88.6 rush yards per game since Nov. 1. Yes, two of those games have been against the ground-less Texans and Browns. But two were also against the NFL’s No. 4 run game in the Cardinals and the league’s No. 1 rookie running back in Gurley. If those 88.6 yards were plugged into the entire season, they would be third in the NFL against the rush, .1 behind Denver’s heralded hit men.
As for what the oddsmakers are expecting, the Bengals are being tabbed as 10.5-point favorites of the Browns, according to OddsShark.
- Cleveland is 0-5 ATS in its last 5 games
- Cleveland is 0-5 SU in its last 5 games
- The total has gone OVER in 8 of Cleveland's last 11 games
- Cleveland is 1-4-1 ATS in its last 6 games at home
- Cleveland is 1-7 SU in its last 8 games at home
- The total has gone OVER in 5 of Cleveland's last 5 games at home
- The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Cleveland's last 5 games when playing Cincinnati
- Cleveland is 4-2 ATS in its last 6 games when playing at home against Cincinnati
- Cincinnati is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games
- Cincinnati is 9-2 SU in its last 11 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Cincinnati's last 5 games
- Cincinnati is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games on the road
- Cincinnati is 4-1 SU in its last 5 games on the road
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Cincinnati's last 5 games on the road
- The total has gone UNDER in 8 of Cincinnati's last 12 games on the road
- The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Cincinnati's last 5 games when playing Cleveland
- Cincinnati is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games when playing on the road against Cleveland
- The total has gone OVER in 4 of Cincinnati's last 6 games when playing on the road against Cleveland
As for who's picking who, no one sees the Browns being able to pull off the upset this week, despite the fact they have been swept by the Bengals just twice since 2007.
- All eight experts at SB Nation are going with the Bengals.
- All four of NFL.com's pickers are siding with Cincinnati.
- The Bengals received every pick at ESPN.
- All eight of Fox Sports' pickers went with Cincinnati.
- All eight CBS Sports pickers are siding with the Bengals.
- NFL Pick Watch, which keeps track of every expert pick, has the Bengals getting 99 percent of the picks this week.