Believe it or not, the Cleveland Browns are still alive for a playoff spot as they prepare to host the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16. Game time is at 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 23, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. Fans throughout the state of Ohio and other select markets can watch the game on CBS.
The Browns have opened the week as 7-point favorites at home. The over/under is set at 45 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s NFL betting odds.
As it turns out, firing head coach Hue Jackson was a stroke of genius for the Browns. Since parting ways with Jackson, the Browns have gone 4-2, including last week’s hard-fought road win over the Broncos to take them to 6-7-1 and keep them alive in the playoff picture. Obviously, the odds are against them, but heading into Week 16, the Browns still have a chance to reach the playoffs.
Of course, if the Ravens beat the Chargers on Saturday night, the Browns will be eliminated by kickoff on Sunday. But if L.A. holds serve at home, the Browns can reach the playoffs by winning their two remaining games and getting a whole lot of help that includes the Colts and Titans playing to a tie in Week 17. Even if the odds are slim, this Cleveland team seems intent on finishing the season strong.
The Bengals, meanwhile, enter Week 16 officially eliminated from playoff contention. This will be the third straight season that Cincinnati misses out on the playoffs, which may be enough to cost Marvin Lewis his job at season’s end. On the bright side, the Bengals were able to put an end to their five-game winning streak last week with a 30-16 win over the Raiders.
With no hope of reaching the postseason, the Bengals are now in a position to play loose and carefree as they take on the role of spoiler. Cincy closes the season with road games against the Browns and Steelers. Both teams are in must-win situations, so the Bengals should be motivated to help knock their rivals out of the playoff picture.
When these two teams met less than a month ago, the Browns cruised to a 35-20 win in Cincinnati. While the Bengals out-gained the Browns in that game, Cleveland got out to a 28-0 lead by late in the 2nd quarter, making it easy for them to hold on in the 2nd half.
Something feels inherently wrong about picking the Browns to cover a touchdown. But I think it’s justified in this instance. Cleveland has won four of their last five games, with three of those wins coming by at least six points. After beating the Bengals by 15 points on the road a few weeks ago, I feel good about eating seven points and leaning toward Cleveland to cover this week at home.
The most impressive part of that Week 12 win is that the Browns scored 35 points despite a lackluster effort from their running game. Nick Chubb gained only 84 yards on 28 carries in that game, but it was enough to get the job done. It’s worth mentioning that the Bengals are one of the worst teams in football at defending the run, giving up over 140 yards per game. Despite slowing down Oakland’s running game last week, there’s every chance that Chubb and the Cleveland running game will have a big game against the Bengals on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Baker Mayfield had arguably the best game of his young career against the Bengals last month. Even without a completion longer than 24 yards, Mayfield threw for 258 yards and four touchdowns in that game. He’s faced far more challenging defenses in the weeks since that game and has handled himself well, so Mayfield should feel comfortable and confident facing the Bengals again. Also, in his last three home games, Mayfield has completed 76% of his passes while throwing six touchdowns to just one interception. Clearly, he’s at his best in front of the home fans.
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals have seen minimal progress from Jeff Driskel. Even with the Bengals scoring 30 points last week, Driskel completed just 14 of his 33 passes for 130 yards against a lackluster Oakland defense. With the Cleveland defense seeing him a few weeks ago and having a few games of film on him, Driskel faces an uphill battle against the Browns this week.
Right now, the Bengals are overly reliant on running back Joe Mixon carrying the team. For what it’s worth, Mixon has been outstanding over the last four weeks, including the game against Cleveland in which he ran for 89 yards on just 14 carries. However, the Cincinnati offense has become too predictable. Also, they are likely to struggle to play from behind, which may very well be the case against Mayfield and the Browns.
Admittedly, taking the Browns to cover a 7-point spread is a little risky. But they’ve proven themselves to be for real over the past month and they will be motivated to keep that going. The Browns beat the Bengals by a comfortable margin a few weeks ago and I think there’s a good chance they can repeat that result this week.