Over the years Cincinnati Bengals–Cleveland Browns had been a battle of the perennial have-nots, until Cincy began leaving Cleveland in the dust under Marvin Lewis. Still, these AFC North squads typically find a way to play it (sloppily) close and with Cleveland’s defense it could very well unfold that way again.
Week 4 Schedule: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
TV Info (ET): 1 p.m. on CBS
Predicted Spread: Bengals -4.5 (Actual: Bengals -4.5)
Following the Trent Richardson trade for a 2014 first-rounder, it was easy to cue the jokes about how Michael Lombardi and the Browns front office have basically given up on this year’s team. Rob Chudzinski showed why the team itself won’t give up on its head coach’s first year, putting on an inspired performance at the Minnesota Vikings Sunday to win 31-27. T-Rich is an extremely impressive talent that you’d hate to lose from this offense but that doesn’t mean Cleve’s D will fall. A sleeper elite unit entering the year has met the hype and then some.
Cincy’s heavily invested in weapons that can take Andy Dalton‘s limited arm a long way. Hitting deep outs might not be his forte but he’ll have to at least hit the other routes with accuracy as in Week 1’s loss. Performances like Monday night Week 2 might beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and maybe even the Browns; this will not do when it comes to making a deep playoff push. Dalton did bounce back well in topping the Green Bay Packers in Sunday’s 34-30 escape.
Dalton must be on the top of his game for Cincy to top 20 against a very underrated Browns defense, even if Gio Bernard and Tyler Eifert rack up the YAC and AJ Green‘s destroying cornerbacks on shot plays, which will be hard to do against Joe Haden.
Key Matchup: Geno Atkins vs. Browns interior
How tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz bounce back after their slow start is also interesting and tangentially important; how much that even matters will come down to Atkins punishing the Cleveland interior to flood the backfield. John Greco is middling and Oniel Cousins ranks near the bottom in Pro Football Focus’ guard grading at the start of Week 3 though Cleveland’s offense found some life this Sunday under Brian Hoyer. However, it’s hard for anyone to improve their mark against the league’s top 4-3 defensive tackle.
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