Mandatory Credit: Photo by Butch Dill/AP/Shutterstock (13470121gi) Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins lines up for a play against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL football game, in New Orleans Bengals Saints Football, New Orleans, United States – 16 Oct 2022
Cincinnati Bengals (4-3) at Cleveland Browns (2-5)
Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/ESPN
The NFL’s two Ohio teams renew their AFC North divisional rivalry Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland as the Browns look to snap a four-game losing streak. Cleveland has lost three of the four by a field goal or less, seemingly unable to finish games despite holding leads at various times. The Bengals enter Monday night having seemingly finally found their offensive groove. Cincinnati has won two in a row, scoring 30 or more points in both games. Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow enters Cleveland smoldering hot following an explosive performance last Sunday, finishing 481 yards through the air and three touchdowns. If he can stay in that type of rhythm Monday night, it will be a long night for the Browns’ defense. But Burrow will have to do so without top wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, whose hip injury sustained last weekend appears likely to sideline him for four to six weeks.
Cleveland swept their two divisional games against Cincinnati last season, blowing them out 41-16 in Week 9 and winning by a more modest 21-16 score on the season’s final Sunday. Burrow only played in the first game but struggled tremendously with two interceptions (one returned 99 yards for a touchdown by Denzel Ward). Nick Chubb had a huge day in that one, averaging almost ten yards per carry en route to 137 total and two touchdowns. Burrow has never beaten the Browns in his three starts in the rivalry, but his current form suggests he’ll have a great chance to do so this week.
The Browns will undoubtedly lean heavily on their run game, the cornerstone of everything they do offensively. Cleveland ranks third in the NFL, averaging 163 yards rushing per game, and takes on a Bengals defense that ranks middle of the pack at defending it. The problems of late in Cleveland haven’t actually been offense-driven, though – after all, the Browns rank 11th in the NFL in points per game and seventh in yardage gained per game so far this season. The issues have been much more concentrated on the defensive side of the football, where the 26.6 points the Browns allow per game rank them near the bottom of the NFL. Given the current form of the Bengals’ offense, even without Ja’Marr Chase, that could mean a ton of points for Cincinnati.
In stark contrast to their in-state rivals from up north, Cincinnati is at its best offensively when their attack centers on Burrow’s talent in the passing game. The Bengals average just 87 yards rushing per game, ranking 30th in the NFL – but their lethal pass game ranks fifth in the league and climbing. With last year’s defensive star Denzel Ward unavailable due to a concussion Monday night, Burrow will undoubtedly look to get into a rhythm early with receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
A win would move Cincinnati into a first-place tie atop the division with Baltimore at 5-3 and further bury the Cleveland Browns in the standings before Deshaun Watson’s eventual arrival at quarterback. There have already been rumors swirling surrounding Cleveland’s willingness to trade running back Kareem Hunt, leaving an inquisitive mind to wonder how many others could be on the move if the Browns fall to 2-6.