Even with nothing else on the line, both teams should be motivated to grab a win in a Week 17 rivalry game between the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 29 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Fans throughout most of Ohio will be able to watch the game on Fox.
According to the Week 17 betting odds, the Browns are 3-point favorites on the road. The over/under for the game is set at 45 points.
The Browns are no strangers to disappointing seasons, but 2019 was a new kind of disappointing for them. For the first time in what must have felt like forever, the team entered a season with the expectation of competing for a playoff spot. A month ago, that goal was still within their reach. However, the Browns have stumbled down the stretch, losing three of their last four games, taking them out of the playoff picture despite other teams with a losing record still being alive.
Cleveland has already clinched a losing season for the 12th consecutive year. On the bright side, with a win in Week 17, the Browns can avoid 10 or more losses in back-to-back years for the first time since 2002. In a weird way, that would be a step forward for the franchise.
As for the Bengals, they will be glad to see this season finally come to an end. This is certainly not the season that rookie head coach Zac Taylor envisioned for himself when he took the job. To be fair, nobody was expecting the Bengals to contend for a Super Bowl or even make the playoffs. However, nobody expected them to be the worst team in the NFL either.
Cincinnati had one last chance to possibly avoid the worst record in the league and the top overall pick in next year’s draft. However, the Bengals lost in Miami last week despite a valiant comeback to force overtime. Since picking up their only win of the season against the Jets a few weeks ago, the Bengals have lost three in a row and are staring down the barrel of a 1-15 season if they can’t pull off a win against the Browns.
In addition to avoiding a 1-win season, the Bengals would also like to snap a three-game losing streak at the hands of the lowly Browns. Cleveland swept the Bengals last season and won 27-19 when the teams met three weeks ago despite Cincinnati out-gaining the Browns by more than 100 yards.
Week 17 games are all about motivation, and I just don’t see the Browns being motivated to play this game. Last week’s sideline blowup between Freddie Kitchens and Odell Beckham Jr. doesn’t help, neither does the team’s play the last few weeks. Keep in mind that the Bengals were the better team statistically a few weeks ago, and I think they’ll find a way to give their fan base a little bit of hope with a win in the season finale.
As much as Cleveland’s motivation concerns me, their run defense is equally concerning. The Browns have been repeatedly gashed on the ground this season, especially in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, Kenyan Drake had a career day, going off for 137 yards and four touchdowns against them. It was a similar story with Joe Mixon when these teams met earlier this month. Mixon rushed for 146 yards in that game and 136 yards the following week against New England. He’s found his groove late in the season and is just 25 yards away from 1,000. It’s not a stretch to expect another big game from him.
I’m also curious to see how Andy Dalton plays in what is likely his last game in Cincinnati. Despite some ups and downs since being reinstated as the starter, Dalton had nearly 400 yards passing and four touchdowns last week. He’s at least capable of putting together a halfway decent performance, especially if the Bengals can establish Mixon on the ground and force Cleveland to prioritize the run. Moreover, Tyler Boyd has come on strong late in the year after Dalton returned and John Ross had his first big game last week since coming back from an injury. That gives the Cincinnati offense some decent weapons.
In fairness, the Cincinnati defense is a mess, although they’ve been a little better at home. More importantly, the Cleveland offense is also mistake-prone. Baker Mayfield has walked the tightrope this season, throwing 19 touchdowns compared to 18 interceptions. Even with a strong rushing attack that’s capable of carrying the team at times, Mayfield can’t avoid mistakes. Against the Bengals a few weeks ago, he completed less than 50% of his passes and threw two picks. I’m not that confident things will be much better this time around.
As bad as the Bengals have been the season, the Browns haven’t been much better over the last month. Cleveland hasn’t won on the road since Week 4 and was lucky to escape with a home win against the Bengals earlier this month. It’s hard to buy the Browns as a road favorite, so I’ll take a chance on the Bengals finding a silver lining in Week 17.