NFL fans are hoping for a scary ending to Week 8, but in a good way, when the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals meet on "Monday Night Football." It's the first of two meetings between these AFC North rivals, with the return coming in Week 14 in Cincinnati. Last year, Cleveland swept the series, winning 41-16 on the road and 21-16 at home. Overall, the Browns have defeated the Bengals four straight times and in seven of the last eight encounters.
Last week, Cincinnati (4-3) racked up 537 yards of total offense in a 35-17 home win over Atlanta. The Bengals raced out to a 28-7 lead with less than a minute to go in the second quarter before the Falcons scored 10 quick points. But they would get no closer as Joe Burrow finished the game with 481 passing yards and three touchdowns and also ran one in, Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd both went over 100 receiving yards and the defense did its part by holding Atlanta to just 3.7 yards per carry and giving up a total of eight pass completions.
Meanwhile, things have not gone well for Cleveland (2-5), who has lost four straight. Last week, it was a 23-20 setback to current division leader Baltimore on the road in a game in which the Browns outgained the Ravens by 82 yards. The problem was a pair of lost fumbles, giving up five sacks, and allowing Baltimore to win the time of possession battle (34:04 to 25:56).
Monday Night Football: Cincinnati (4-3) at Cleveland (2-5)
Three Things to Watch
1. Injury impact
Cincinnati got some frightful news earlier this week when it was revealed that star wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase will miss 4-6 weeks because of a hip injury. Chase has been the second-most targeted player this season (74), he's tied for second with six touchdown catches, is tied for fifth in receptions (47), and is sixth in yards (605). He's Joe Burrow's favorite target and a big-play weapon rolled into one, and his absence won't be easy to overcome. Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins are certainly capable pass catchers in their own right, each is averaging more yards per reception (15.7 and 14.7, respectively) compared to Chase (12.9), but they'll have to continue to produce without having their teammate around to draw defensive attention. Look for tight Hayden Hurst (39 rec., 226 yds., TDs) to potentially see more targets as well, although he's been limited in practice this week by groin/ankle injuries.
Cleveland's injury report is much longer and as big a loss as Chase is to the Bengals, the Browns are in rougher shape health-wise. Four players have been ruled out for Monday — cornerback Denzel Ward (concussion), tight end David Njoku (ankle), and offensive linemen Wyatt Teller (calf) and Joe Haeg (concussion). Additionally, cornerbacks Greedy Williams (illness) and Greg Newsome II (oblique), as well as linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (knee) are listed as questionable. The good news is that defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney don't carry an injury designation, although the former didn't practice at all this week and the latter was a limited participant. Garrett's presence could be huge as he's remained productive (tied for fifth in NFL with six sacks) despite dealing with the lingering effects of the injuries he sustained in a car accident a month ago.
2. Mixon things up on offense
Burrow has been hot lately, with 781 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games alone. He's also scored twice on the ground during that span for good measure. But the passing attack is going to look different over the next month or s with Chase sidelined. So that's where Joe Mixon comes in. The Bengals' versatile back finished third in the NFL last season with 1,205 rushing yards but he's off to a slow start thus far. He enters this game averaging less than 60 yards per contest and just 3.3 yards per carry. He has only one run of more than 20 yards (it came in Week 1) and hasn't been much of a factor as a receiver either (27 rec., 6.7 ypr., TD). Cleveland is 24th against the run, giving up 135.6 yards per game, so this would be the perfect timing for a Mixon breakout performance, especially with the Bengals' top playmaker sidelined for the foreseeable future.
3. Browns need to play keep away
Cleveland is at its best when controlling the tempo and wearing down teams by running the ball. The Browns are fourth in the league in rushing offense (163.6 ypg) but unfortunately, they've also lost three games in which they have run for more than 170 yards. Last week, they ran for 113 yards on 24 carries while Jacoby Brissett attempted 27 passes. He completed 22 of them for 258 yards with no interceptions. But he also didn't have a touchdown and was sacked five times. Ideally, Cleveland needs to lean on Nick Chubb (5.9 ypc) and Kareem Hunt against a Cincinnati defense that is giving up 116 yards on the ground per game, which will hopefully set up Brissett to find Amari Cooper and others with some play-action passes. Even though the Bengals' offense will be without Chase, it's still plenty dangerous and the Browns can't afford for this one to turn into a high-scoring affair.
It's a scary thing for the NFL that the Bengals may have found their offense over the past few weeks. Losing Chase for an extended period of time will be tough to overcome, but Burrow is capable of winning games himself. And he may have to continue to do so if the rushing attack continues to lag behind. The Browns have one of the more productive ground games in the league but it hasn't led to many wins. A depleted Cincinnati offense helps Cleveland keep this one close, but Evan McPherson's leg proves to be the difference as the Bengals get the Halloween W to keep pace with the Ravens atop the AFC North.
Prediction: Bengals 23, Browns 20
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
*Price as of publication.