THE BATTLE FOR OHIO—NO, NOT THAT ONE…
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns, 8:20 p.m., NFL Network (CLE -6, 43.5)
Usually, The Gairzo doesn’t go along with the crowd and the pundits, but I do agree the Cincinnati Bengals have enough talent to make a lot of games interesting this year—including tonight’s affair in Cleveland.
Joe Burrow and HC, Zach Johnson, showed what could be happening for the next decade and a half if last week’s performance against the Bolts becomes the norm: accurate, crisp passes to receivers even a little bit open, intelligent decision making, timely running, and fearlessness.
Perennial division winners, Baltimore and Pittsburgh better watch out; starting next year, the Bengals should be a lot deeper than their 2020 squad, and if they have a good draft, who knows how lethal the Striped Cats can be?
Meanwhile in Cleveland…I was worried when Jimmy Haslam took over he might bring some of the patience, intelligence, and stability he was part of as a minority owner of the Steelers. I even entertained the silly thought that Cleveland might actually morph into a formidable division rival.
Turns out those teeth didn’t need gnashing--yet.
Haslam has been trigger happy when it comes to coaches, and impatient with his team—and party to an unseemly lawsuit focusing on his chain of truck stops.
This is a tough contest to handicap; the 6 points Vegas has bestowed upon Cincy are just about right. Up and down their roster, Cleveland should have, by now, developed far more consistency and character—even during their perennial soap operas--than they have shown on the field. Few teams can boast a WR tandem as talented as Jarvis Landry and OBJ, but Beckham has Dr. Jeckylled into another selfish diva and those who thought Landry was overrated are smirking.
Don’t forget the rushing duet of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Obviously given Baker Mayfield’s talent we have to wonder why in a divisional game last week against the Crows—these teams know each other even with a short week to prepare—did the Browns look so inept.
Okay the Pandemic Factor holds true; Baltimore bests the Browns in the stability, talent and coaching comparison; this is Stepanski’s first year, after all—and it’s fantasy to believe they can correct every problem in three days.
We know Mayfield is going for a 3-0 record on TNF. We know teams that lose in Week One by double digits, Cover in Week Two 62.5% of the time. We know the defensive talent in Cleveland is full of seasoned, but still young draft picks who can make a rookie QB look awful.
But, more than any rookie QB we have seen Burrow has shown the “it’ factor more in one game than the Mayfields, Rosens, Murrrays, and Darnolds of the NFL world have to date.
We’re going with Cincy to Cover—and we’ll go with the flow and take the Under.
Browns 23 Bengals 20