The Cincinnati Bengals face the Cleveland Browns on the road this Sunday afternoon for their first game of the 2023 NFL season. This game matters, and the Bengals are looking to avoid the slow start they had to the 2022 season, which held them out of contention for a first-round bye after the Bills game was canceled.
The Bengals are looking to make another deep run in the postseason, and making sure they come home from their opener with a division win will help them get there.
Here are a few things to watch out for on Sunday:
- Orlando Brown Jr. vs. Myles Garrett: Garrett is one of the best, if not the best, 4-3 edge rusher in the NFL. The four-time All-Pro will be facing off against the Bengals' new left tackle, Brown Jr., who was signed in free agency this offseason. Brown Jr. gives the Bengals the best left tackle they’ve had since Andrew Whitworth, and they’ll need him to be on his A-game, considering Garrett is coming off five straight seasons with 10 or more sacks. This is likely the matchup of the game.
- Who replaces Samaje Perine?: There is no question Joe Mixon is the Bengals' lead back, but unless he learned how to pass block this offseason, he won’t be on the field in obvious passing situations, especially if the Bengals are trailing and struggling to keep Joe Burrow upright. The Bengals will have to turn to Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans, or rookie Chase Brown to help pick up blitzing linebackers. As of right now, I’m not sure if they really know who it will be.
- DJ Reader vs. Nick Chubb: There’s no question that the Browns will lean on their run game with their top-tier running back, Chubb. Luckily for the Bengals, they have the best run-stopping nose tackle in Reader. The Bengals defense will surely hope to force the ball into Deshaun Watson’s hands, which means they’ll need to shut down the running game or get up by so many points the Browns have to abandon the run. Hopefully, both things happen, but Reader will be the main reason the Browns struggle to run the ball if they do.
- The Big Three: We haven’t seen Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, or Tyler Boyd, the guys who make up the best wide receiver trio in the NFL, this preseason. The Browns have a solid secondary (though, as of writing this, Denzel Ward is still in concussion protocol), but there isn’t a secondary that exists in the league that can completely shut down the Bengals wide receivers. Will they come out firing even though the wide receivers and the quarterback haven’t taken any preseason snaps?
Some other thoughts on the Bengals-Browns game:
- There may be no player I’m looking forward to seeing in action other than Burrow more than Irv Smith Jr. I cannot wait to see what the talented pass-catching tight end brings to the Bengals. He has the potential to be the best offensive weapon Burrow has had at the position in his NFL career.
- Chidobe Awuzie being back and ready to go for Week 1 is a big deal. Amari Cooper may not be Chase or Higgins, but he’s a technician when it comes to route running and knows how to get open. I’m glad it’ll either be Awuzie or Cam Taylor-Britt covering him more often than not.
- I understand, considering his calf strain, why Burrow didn’t take any snaps in the preseason. However, I really don’t like the fact that no offensive player took any snaps in the preseason outside of Jonah Williams. I remember when the offensive line, newly formed with Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins, didn’t play in the preseason before the 2022 season. They gave up 13 sacks over the first two games of the season before they started to gel together.
- I don’t need to harp on Watson’s off-field issues. We’ve done that to death, and I’m honestly tired of talking about it, and it just makes me angry to think about it. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard will hopefully pressure him all game long.
- While I would absolutely love to see the Bengals bench their starters late in the third quarter because they’re just absolutely throttling the Browns, I expect this to play out like most other AFC North games, though, If you wanted me to use a single word to predict how this game plays out, that word would be: ugly. Get ready for it.
- This is the second year in a row the Bengals open with a division rival. They lost against the Steelers last year. While they still won the division, they were hurt when it came to playoff seeding. I don’t want to see another slow start on Sunday, especially since it’s another division game.
- Today, the date is 9/5. How cool would it be if the Bengals signed Burrow (9) and Higgins (5) on 9/5. A fella can dream!
- It’s been a long offseason. Enjoy football’s return and soak it up the best you can. The football season seems to fly by way too fast every year. Try to enjoy it. Before you know it, the season will be over.
- Game prediction: Bengals 24, Browns 13
Guess Who just got back today
Them wild-eyed boys that had been away
Haven’t changed, had much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy
They were askin’ if you were around
How you was, where you could be found
I told them you were livin’ downtown
Drivin’ all the old men crazy
The boys are back in town