The Bengals should be heavy favorites when they travel to Cleveland today. Can the Browns find a way to upset Cincinnati, or is this one as close to a game "being in the bag" as it gets? Kyle and I proposed three questions for our debate and each gave separate answers to the different points. Unsurprisingly, we each had the same team coming out on top.
How does Austin Davis change the equation for the Browns? What does he bring to the table that the Bengals need to prepare for?
Kyle: I actually think Austin Davis changes the equation in a positive way for the Browns. I know he's the third string quarterback, but the Bengals only have a few plays at the end of last week's Monday night game against the Ravens in terms of film to study on him this year. The Bengals have absolutely shredded the Browns twice when Johnny Manziel is playing, and the Browns are only 1-7 behind Josh McCown.
Aside from just the lack of preparation factor, Austin Davis is also a decent quarterback. Last year, with the St. Louis Rams, he threw for over 2000 yards and 12 touchdowns in only eight games. Before Week 7, he was impressive, prompting quite a few people to speculate whether or not he was the second coming of Kurt Warner.
He ended up getting hurt and didn't work out with the Rams after recovering, but I really do think that the Browns finally have a quarterback here who can be developed into a long-term starter, providing they don't go all Browns and try to draft another bust.
Davis is the kind of wild card quarterback that can energize a team and get them going. The Browns are about as close as they can be to mathematically eliminated without technically meeting that criteria, so Davis probably isn't enough to save their season. But, if the Bengals aren't careful, this guy could surprise them in the worst way.
Alex: For starters, I think that Austin Davis is most certainly an upgrade over Johnny Manziel at the quarterback position. While Josh McCown played well statistically, the Browns were a mere 1-7 under him; in other words, a change of scenery could be fitting.
He had a phenomenal season last year, posting over 2000 yards in just eight games. Although injury limited his ability to compete for the Rams starting role afterwards, I think the Browns were very smart in picking him up as an option under center. The Bengals won't have a lot to go off of in terms of game film from this year, but what they will see is someone that immediately shook off the rust in a Monday night primetime matchup against the Ravens. He has the kind of veteran presence you simply don't expect to see from someone that's ridden the bench as a third string this year.
Indeed, that's what Davis brings to the table here against the Bengals: a solid poise that, quite frankly, we aren't used to seeing in a Browns quarterback. Is it a trap game? Maybe. Maybe not. But I think that Davis being a the helm definitely spices up the equation for one.
How do the Bengals deal with the injuries that are starting to wear on the team?
Kyle: I'll tell you how you deal with the injuries. Don't worry about them. By that, I mean, don't throw players into the game if they're not ready. Tyler Eifert is going to be crucial to the Bengals' inevitable playoff run, as will Adam Jones, Andre Smith, George Iloka and Leon Hall.
Don't rush them back this week, because you don't need to. The team can likely afford to rest some of their hurt players this week and have them closer to 100% when they host the Steelers in a game that means a whole lot more to the Bengals' season. Obviously every game matters in the NFL, but at 9-2, the 2-9 Browns aren't a threat to their season. Next week, it's win and you're in.
Alex: I agree. Worrying about them isn't going to change anything, and the players will heal as the team lets them, and all players look to be on track for the end of the season. I'm not so sure about the ability to be picky with team selection, simply because the AFC's No. 2 seed will likely come down to the final week - that's if the Patriots are able to hold onto the No. 1 spot in the first place. The Bengals may lead the Broncos by ruling of AFC record, but the head-to-head is still fast approaching. Every win counts, none more so that the one against Denver.
But of course, the Bengals need to take it one game at a time, Kyle. This Browns game is no different. All signs points toward Tyler Eifert sitting this one out. There's no reason to risk him injuring something further when it isn't necessary. I agree that getting players back for the Steelers game will be far more important. It'll just be interesting to see what Davis is able to do against a secondary where quite a few players have missed time in the last two weeks and rookies may be playing.
The only time that the Bengals have swept the Browns with Andy Dalton was in his rookie year. By that notion, are the Browns due to win? What is the single most important key to the Bengals holding off a potential trap game scenario?
Kyle: I don't think the Browns are due for a win at all. Right now, the Browns are going through as much turmoil as they've been through recently. They're just a notch above firing coaches during the season, and they've already started giving up on draft picks (again). The game will be in Cleveland, but the Browns have been so awful at closing out games this season - compared to the Bengals who have been particularly good at it - and I think that the Browns beating the Bengals would be one of the most incredible upsets of the season. It would be on par with the Lions beating the Packers in Lambeau for the first time since 1991.
By most accounts, the Browns have the second worst running defense in the NFL, behind only the Dolphins. The Bengals, on the other hand, have Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill who are both contributing to the running game in their own way for the Bengals this year. Jeremy Hill hasn't been great in terms of yards per carry this season, but he is a touchdown vulture this season (7) trailing only Devonta Freeman (8) and Adrian Peterson (9). Giovani Bernard, on the other hand, has recorded a fantastic number of yards per carry this season (5.1). For running backs with at least 80 carries on the season, he trails only Seattle's Thomas Rawls (5.6). The Bengals can probably shred the Browns in the air with Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert not playing, but they would do well to abuse this fantastic matchup in the running game.
Alex: I think it's more than a bit far-fetched to say the Browns are due a win. They're not due anything. In fact, the whole season has essentially been one dysfunctional circus - even more so than previous years, which is saying something. Even though the Browns get home field advantage, I don't foresee that changing much for this game.
I think you mention really good points. In particular, I expect Giovani Bernard to have a great game, especially in the form of short passes from Andy Dalton. However, I think it's important to just focus on the one way the Browns could stay in this game - and that's turnovers. The Bengals have been great in that department with a plus-six differential, tied for fourth in the league with the Patriots and Packers. Meanwhile, the Browns are tied at 21st with a negative-three differential. With the Bengals heading into this game with a nine point margin in that category, I don't think there's anything to fear.
Kyle: Bengals 31, Browns 17
Alex: Bengals 27, Browns 13