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Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals Preview and Prediction

Andy Dalton

Andy Dalton

Tonight’s battle for Buckeye State supremacy is by far the most nationally relevant matchup between the Cleveland Browns (5-3) and Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1) since the expansion Browns returned to the league in 1999 and will be must-see TV on the NFL Network. Although Cleveland’s sports scene is providing a feel-good story — complete with a national ad campaign featuring LeBron James — it’s too soon to overreact (on the gridiron or hardwood). The Browns’ five wins have come against teams with a combined 13–28 record (7–25 if Pittsburgh’s 6–3 mark is removed) and they are the only team to lose to lowly Jacksonville (24–6 in Week 7).

Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NFL Network

Spread: Cincinnati -6.5

Three Things to Watch

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1. Mirror Images

The statistical similarities between these two Buckeye State rivals are uncanny. The Bengals are averaging 361.6 yards of total offense per game, the Browns 352.3. Cleveland averages 241 yards through the air, Cincinnati 240. The two teams have both allowed precisely 1,117 rushing yards on the season (although Cincinnati has done so on two fewer carries). Cleveland is allowing 392 yards per game, Cincinnati 395. Both teams come in having won two in a row following disappointing losses. You get the idea. These two evenly matched squads are even mirroring one another in the pregame respect department. "This will be the best opponent we've played in a few games so it will certainly be a good measuring stick," said Browns tackle Joe Thomas. Bengals safety Tashaun Gipson countered with, "(The NFL) definitely (knows) about the Cleveland Browns. They take the Browns seriously. They have no choice. You don't win five games by mistake."

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2. Super Sub

Jeremy Hill's play against Jacksonville in relief of Giovani Bernard was spectacular, although the fact that it came against Jacksonville gives the rookie from LSU’s performance a bit of an asterisk. With Bernard nursing shoulder and hip injuries, Hill exploded with 154 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, including a decisive 60-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run after the Jaguars had trimmed the Bengals' lead to 26–23. "We challenged him," said quarterback Andy Dalton. "We knew he was going to get a lot of carries with Gio out. He answered and had played pretty well. Even besides that 60-yard run, he was having a really good day. I'm sure this is one he'll remember for a long time." With Bernard listed as Doubtful on the injury report and unlikely to play tonight, Hill will have no time to rest on his laurels.

3. Road Woes

For as well as the Browns have played this season, there is still an albatross hanging around their necks that will dog the Dawg Pounders until they shed it: Cleveland has lost a staggering 17 consecutive divisional games on the road. The last time the Browns ventured away from Cleveland and beat a divisional opponent? Sept. 28, 2008, late in the administration of George W. Bush. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the longest such drought by any team since the 1970 NFL merger. To add to their ledger of road futility, the Browns haven't won more than two road games in a season since that same 2008 season. Conversely, the Bengals have not lost a regular season home game since Week 14 in 2012. This glaring contrast could provide a significant mental edge for the home team. 

Final Analysis

This is a different Browns team — at home. Their only road win so far this season came in Week 5 against a struggling Tennessee team that suffered an epic collapse in Cleveland's 29–28 win. Until the Browns prove that they can win a divisional road game, something that they last did before America had elected its first black president, we have to go with the home team. 

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Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 17