Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-2)
The Browns won last week in Minnesota, but they will find live a lot tougher this week against the Bengals. For one, they probably won’t be as successful if they try trick play again, like they did last week, when their punter threw an 11-yard touchdown and a special teamer had a 34 yard run. Take away that 34 yard run and a 22 yard run by Josh Gordon, they had just 47 rushing yards on 15 carries in their first week without Trent Richardson and that was against the Vikings. The Bengals run defense is much tougher and will make life very hard for the trio of Willis McGahee, Bobby Rainer, and Chris Ogbonnaya.
That’s going to make live tougher for Brian Hoyer, who was going to find live harder anyway against a Cincinnati pass defense that is much better than Minnesota’s. Hoyer had a solid week last week, but he also completed just 55.6% of his passes, averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt and threw 3 interceptions so he’s hardly the Browns’ savior. Throughout his career, he’s completed just 58.0% of his passes for an average of 6.3 YPA, 5 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. He’ll be overmatched against the Bengals, even with Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson expected out for the Bengals. Their front 7, particularly their defensive line, will help mask their absence.
The Bengals generally play well against bad teams in the Andy Dalton era, as they had an 18-4 record in 2011 and 2012 combined against non-playoff teams. They’re even better this year, coming off a statement win over the Packers, a likely playoff team. They were 1-11 against such teams in 2011 and 2012, but they beat the Packers despite losing the turnover battle by 2. Teams win just 17.9% of the time when losing the turnover battle by 2 historically.
I still think Andy Dalton is a limiting factor on this team, but his previous 1-11 record in 2011 and 2012 against eventual playoff teams doesn’t seem relevant at this point. His supporting cast is definitely good enough to mask his flaws, especially their defense. His supporting cast will make life easy for him this week against a weaker opponent. The Bengals should be able to establish their game plan easily against the Browns, as they usually do against weak opponents. This would be a higher confidence pick if the line were below the key numbers of 3 and 4, but I still feel pretty confident the Bengals get a big win here.
Cincinnati Bengals 23 Cleveland Browns 10
Pick against spread: Cincinnati -4.5