NFL Odds: Browns vs. Bengals
One of the NFL’s most legendary rivalries will reignite with the Bengals host the Browns on Sunday. After losing seven games in a row to Cincinnati, Cleveland has won four of the last five meetings between these intra-division rivals.
Can Cleveland complete the sweep of the season series in Week 7? There could be value in backing the Browns as road favorites. Let’s take a closer look.
Cleveland will be without the services of three players: Starting tight end Austin Hooper has been ruled out after an appendectomy, joining guard Wyatt Teller and linebacker Jacob Phillips on the sideline. Importantly for Cleveland, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson practiced after missing Thursday with an Achilles injury, and is expected to play.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry revealed this week that he’s been playing through a broken rib suffered in a Week 5 win over the Colts, but is expected to play.
Losing Hooper is a concern, as he has averaged 7.7 targets and five receptions per game over the past three games, posting fantasy TE1 performances each week over that span. However, Cleveland will deploy veteran David Njoku and rookie Harrison Bryant in Hooper’s place. The explosive and versatile Njoku had a rushing touchdown in Week 1 and is fully recovered from an MCL sprain while Bryant is a huge target (6-foot-5) who ranks inside the top 10 at the position in average target distance (9.6 yards).
Cincinnati has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
The Browns are likely to skew even more run-heavy than normal, with quarterback Baker Mayfield dealing with a rib injury. Cleveland ran over the Bengals in Week 2, posting 215 rushing yards at 6.1 yards per attempt. While still sharing snaps with teammate Nick Chubb, Hunt managed 8.6 yards per attempt with both a rushing and receiving touchdown.
Hunt should gash a Bengals run defense that’s allowed 716 rushing yards, third-most of any NFL team this season. Cleveland’s offensive line ranks second-best in the league with 4.91 adjusted line yards per attempt (per Football Outsiders).
The Browns’ defense should cause a ton of problems for a Bengals offensive line that is among the league’s worst, allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. Cincinnati’s front five ranks 29th overall and 31st in pass protection. The Bengals have allowed the fourth-highest sack rate per Football Outsiders, but have functioned as the 29th-worst run blocking unit.
The Bengals will be without starting cornerback William Jackson III (concussion) and running back Joe Mixon (foot). Safety Shawn Williams (hamstring) and wide receiver John Ross (illness) are both listed as questionable.
Cincinnati will likely give the majority of rushing touches to veteran Giovani Bernard. He’ll face a stiff challenge against a Cleveland run defense that has allowed only 3.8 yards per carry (sixth-best). The Browns are allowing only 94 rushing yards per game, third-fewest in the league.
Quarterback Joe Burrow will try to build off his passing success in the Bengals’ Week 2 matchup at Cleveland. He had his most productive passing game of the season, with 316 yards and three touchdowns. However, he did so on 61 pass attempts and completed only 60.7% of his passes. The Browns sacked Burrow three times and forced two fumbles.
The Bengals should find success against a Cleveland secondary allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. The issue remains: Can their offensive line keep Myles Garrett (seven sacks), Richardson and Olivier Vernon from pressuring Burrow?
Burrow will need to rely heavily on Bernard and wide receivers Tee Higgins, A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd. Tight end Drew Sample has accounted for limited production since C.J. Uzomah suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in the prior loss to the Browns.
The matchup between the Browns offensive line and the Bengals defensive line is the biggest discrepancy in this game. Cincinnati will need to find a way to limit Cleveland on the ground while defending the pass without one of its top cornerbacks.
The loss of Mixon is critical to a mistake-prone offense that will need to rely heavily on the arm of a rookie quarterback, but Burrow will experience a ton of pressures and will likely not have the passing volume from Week 2.
Cleveland should force multiple turnovers in this game. I’m backing the Browns, even against a divisional rival on the road. I would play this line down to -4 points.
PICK: Browns -3.5