Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-1)
Both of these teams lost their season opener. For the Bengals, it was their 22nd loss in their last 25 games, dating back to their week 9 bye in the middle of the 2018 season, including a league worst 2-14 in 2019. The Bengals were better than last season’s record suggests though. Of their 14 losses, 8 were decided by 8 points or fewer, while both of their wins came by 10 points or more, even though they had the 3rd worst turnover margin in the league at -14.
Turnover margins and close game records tend to be unpredictable on a year-to-year basis and, in terms of first down rate differential, the Bengals ranked 24th at -3.47%, certainly not good, but not at the worst in the league either. They also should have better quarterback play with rookie #1 overall pick Joe Burrow coming in and they should have better health in the receiving corps and on the offensive line, particularly with top receiver AJ Green and left tackle Jonah Williams returning after missing all of 2019.
The Bengals’ opener was more of the same though, losing the turnover battle by two and the game by three, despite winning the first down rate battle by 1.68%. That doesn’t necessarily mean that will continue though. Case in point, the Bengals’ week 1 opponents, the Chargers, had a 2-9 record in games decided by 8 points or fewer and a league worst -17 turnover margin in 2019, leading to them going just 5-11 despite ranking 7th in first down rate differential, but in week one they managed to win a close game and win the turnover battle.
This week the Bengals go to Cleveland and are 6-point underdogs even though it’s a short trip and the Browns will be limited to 6,000 fans in the stadium. That suggests the Bengals are a little underrated because of all of their recent close losses. The Bengals are missing key defensive tackle Geno Atkins with injury and fellow starter Mike Daniels as well, but the Browns, while they aren’t missing anyone of Atkins’ caliber, are very thin at cornerback and linebacker, where they are missing multiple expected contributors at each position. I have this line calculated at Cleveland -4.5, so we’re not getting a ton of line value, but the Bengals should be the choice for pick ‘em purposes. They might not win, but they should at least keep it competitive like they have most of their recent games.
Update: The Browns will be without defensive end Olivier Vernon as well, while right tackle Jack Conklin is reportedly only going to be available in emergency situations. Both got limited practice in this week, but it wasn’t enough for them to be cleared to start on a short week. Those are two significant absences, but this line hasn’t moved in most places. If you can still get +6, this is worth a bet. The Browns are very banged up and the Bengals have enough talent to be at least competitive in most of their games.
Cleveland Browns 26 Cincinnati Bengals 23
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +6