With the Cincinnati Bengals already clinching the AFC North, there isn’t a ton at stake this week when they visit the Cleveland Browns. However, the Bengals would surely prefer to avenge a 41-15 loss from earlier this season. That being said, the Browns are six-point home favorites in this game, with the over/under set at 38 points.
As mentioned, the Bengals wrapped up the AFC North title last week with a comeback win over the Chiefs. Cincinnati would need the Titans and Chiefs to lose and the Bills to win this week to earn the top seed in the AFC, which is still possible. But regardless of what happens this week, the Bengals will have a home playoff game in the Wild Card Round.
Meanwhile, the Browns are just trying to avoid finishing the season with a four-game losing streak. Cleveland was officially knocked out of the playoff race last week. The Browns currently sit at 7-9 and would finish last in the AFC North with a loss this week or a Baltimore win.
Just In Case
After a rocky and injury-plagued season, Baker Mayfield is undergoing shoulder surgery and will miss Week 18, giving Case Keenum the start. The Cleveland offense has been functional under Keenum this season. However, the bigger concerns for the Browns might be that running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are both listed as questionable, and the offensive line gave up nine sacks last week.
To their credit, the Cleveland defense has hung tough late in the season despite the three-game losing streak. The Browns have given up just 20.4 points per game over their last ten games, keeping opponents to 16 points or less in six of those ten games. However, the Browns are now riddled with injury questions on the defensive side of the ball, potentially weakening the supporting cast around standout pass rusher Myles Garrett.
Taking It Easy
The Bengals aren’t planning to rest all of their starters this week, although quarterback Joe Burrow will sit and rest after suffering a knee injury late in last week’s game. On top of that, Joe Mixon and multiple offensive linemen are on the COVID list in the lead-up to the game. That means the Cincinnati offense will hinge on Brandon Allen’s ability to utilize Ja’Marr Chase and a formidable set of receivers.
Likewise, the Cincinnati defense could be without a handful of starters this week after testing positive for COVID. That could be a problem for a defense that’s been solid but unspectacular for most of the season and needs to be at full strength. The defensive line, which has been the biggest strength for the Bengals on that side of the ball, has been hit hard, including top pass rusher Trey Hendrickson.
On the Prowl
Even if the Bengals aren’t at full strength this week, that doesn’t mean the Browns are a safe bet to be favored. Cleveland will also be playing a backup quarterback and will be missing key players on both sides of the ball. Look for this game to get ugly, making the Bengals a valuable pick as six-point underdogs.
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