The history between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns runs deep. And, even in years where one or both teams are putting forth subpar performances, the rivalry seems to often have an edginess.
It’s hard to tell exactly where the emotion level resides within both franchises as the face-off this week, given the roller coaster that has been 2019. Still, both teams at least have somewhat-significant things to play for this week.
The storyline to set the stage for this unusually-late first of two annual contests is in their rookie head coaches. Freddie Kitchens of Cleveland and Zac Taylor of Cincinnati have combined for just six total wins in 2019 through 13 weeks.
Kitchens was anointed as one of the leagues next great offensive minds after overseeing the rise of Baker Mayfield last year. The unproven NFL assistant took over as the full-time offensive coordinator in Week 9, after Cleveland parted ways with head coach Hue Jackson and Kitchens’ former direct supervisor in Todd Haley.
The No. 1 overall pick threw 19 of his 27 touchdowns in those final eight contests—including seven against the Bengals and his former head coach, whom Marvin Lewis brought over for a “special assistant” role with Cincinnati. The Browns went 5-3 in the stretch, prompting the franchise’s move to promote him to head coach in 2019.
Cleveland equipped their new coach with a plethora of big-name talent in the form of free agent and trade acquisitions. It led to lofty offseason expectations, with some proclaiming that the Browns were a championship-caliber team this year.
Yet, here they sit, in Week 14, at 5-7.
A hard truth is that some franchises are just better-equipped than others to handle big acquisitions and even bigger egos. The two NFL teams housed in the state of Ohio simply do not have the track record of success, organizational culture nor the experienced coaching staffs to wrangle in big personalities and transform them into team championships.
On the other sideline this week, another young, inexperienced coach has underwhelmed with expectations as well. Zac Taylor’s Bengals weren’t seen as world-beaters this year, but some felt they could surprise a lot of people right away.
As he usually does, a guy name Murphy and his law have had their way with Cincinnati in 2019. Injuries and a myriad of other head-scratching moments have culminated in a historically-bad season.
The Bengals did run away with their first victory in the Taylor era last week, but to say it was too little, too late would be an understatement. Andy Dalton’s reinsertion into the lineup jolted the team in a positive way, as Cincinnati is looking to collect more late-season wins to ride some momentum into 2020.
Taylor’s move back to Dalton after giving three starts to Ryan Finley, prompted questions on who actually pushed for the lineup change. With two “Battle of Ohio” contests looming on the schedule and the Bengals not having a win as of Week 13, you’d have to think Mike Brown preferred to get that aforementioned momentum at the cost of his family’s enemy.
It’s been a step back for many of the Browns’ stars this year. Mayfield already has as many interceptions thrown as all of last year (14), but four of his last five starts have netted a 90-plus quarterback rating.
Jarvis Landry is having a solid year with 919 yards and five scores, but his best buddy and fellow receiver, Odell Beckham, Jr., is having a far less impactful season. At 805 yards and just two touchdown receptions, frustration has been mounting with the star-pass catcher, who seems to be at odds with Kitchens.
Dalton is on pace for career-lows in touchdown passes and quarterback rating, while Joe Mixon is having trouble defending his 2018 AFC rushing title because of a lack of room. Backslides by both teams have been themes of the year.
Really, it’s been an emotionally-draining season for everyone associated with both clubs. Fans, players and coaches have been through the proverbial ringer, as the new eras haven’t kicked off as hoped for the green coaches.
A lot of signs point to the Browns starting to pack it in for the rest of the year. The win last week by Pittsburgh and “helmet-gate” a few weeks prior, Beckham’s possible unhappiness and Kitchens being on the hot seat could be ingredients to a 6-10-type of formula.
The Browns need to win out to have any kind of shot at the playoffs. They still seem to be more talented than who the Bengals currently have at their disposal and they’re at home.
Even in playing their best game of the season last week and employing an offensive-minded head coach, the Bengals have not scored more than 23 points all season.
While Cincinnati may get the “W” in the next go-round, this seems like a week where Cleveland temporarily rights the ship—even without Hue Jackson to inspire them.
Bengals 20, Browns 24
AC — Keeping the ego in check.