Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals Prediction: Will Last Week's Results Lead to Starters Resting?

NFL expert Mike Spector analyzes the Week 18 AFC North clash between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
Mike Spector |
Tue, January 4, 2:50 PM EST | 8 min read
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Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals Prediction: Will Last Week's Results Lead to Starters Resting?

Had the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns experienced opposite results last week with the Bengals losing and the Browns winning, the AFC North would have been on the line this week. However, Cincinnati’s win over Kansas City helped them clinch their first division title since 2015. In addition, Cleveland was eliminated from playoff contention before their Monday Night Football contest against Pittsburgh based on how the rest of Sunday’s Week 17 played out. So how does what happened last week affect this matchup between the two division rivals?

Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals Start Time, Where to Watch, and Odds

Date: Sunday, January 9

Game Time: 1:00 pm ET

Where to Watch: FOX

Click Here for Browns vs Bengals Odds

Browns vs. Bengals INJURY REPORT

Bengals

Questionable: QB Joe Burrow

Out: OT Riley Reiff, LB Jordan Evans, G Quinton Spain, CB Darius Phillips, WR Auden Tate

Browns

Questionable: LB Sione Takitaki, CB Denzel Ward, CB Greedy Williams

Out: QB Baker Mayfield, RB Kareem Hunt, LB Mack Wilson, CB Troy Hill, John Johnson III, S Ronnie Harrison Jr.

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Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals Over/Under Movement

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Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals Prediction

Many wondered what Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow would do for an encore last week after torching the Ravens for 525 yards two weeks ago. He followed that historical performance with 446 yards and four touchdowns on 30 completions. In the process, he set Bengals single-season records for passing yards (4,611) and passing touchdowns (34). In addition, his 971 passing yards in back-to-back games are the second-most in NFL history. 

Cincinnati was questioned heavily by their decision to draft rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase over offensive lineman Penei Sewell, especially after Burrow tore his ACL last season. However, drafting Chase has paid off in spades, as he now has the most receiving yards (1,429) by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. In addition, the 266 receiving yards he amassed last week alone set an NFL rookie record.

Cleveland was eliminated from playoff contention entering their game against Pittsburgh, and it showed. The Browns turned in a lackluster performance, especially offensively, leading to questions of Baker Mayfield potentially not being the team’s long-term answer at quarterback. Mayfield completed just 42% of his passes and threw two interceptions, bringing his total to five interceptions in the last five and a half quarters. In addition, he was sacked nine times and had several passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. That has Mayfield doubters questioning his speed to elude defenders and his height given his inability to get several passes downfield over defenders’ hands.

The Bengals will know by Sunday morning whether or not they are in contention for the AFC’s No. 1 seed based on the Chiefs-Broncos result. If Kansas City wins, Cincinnati is eliminated from contention for the top seed and puts a big damper on their possibilities of the No. 2 seed. Thus, a No. 3 or No. 4 seed seems much more likely and will bring into question how motivated the Bengals will be to play this game with seemingly not much at stake.

No head coach would ever admit this, but if Tennessee beats Houston (which is very likely) in Week 18, the Titans will get the No. 1 seed in the AFC. And when trying to figure out their easiest path to the Super Bowl, one could argue that playing at Tennessee in the second round is less challenging than going to Arrowhead.

With that in mind, there is a strong possibility Cincinnati rests starters in this game, including quarterback Joe Burrow, who injured his leg on the team’s final drive last week. Burrow insisted he could have finished the game if the injury had happened earlier, but there was no need for him to go back out as they were already in a kneel-down situation. 

On the other side, Baker Mayfield is admittedly “pretty damn beat up” and will sit out this week after discussing plans with his agent and family. With Mayfield opting to sit out and move forward with surgery on his shoulder, Case Keenum is likely to be named the starter, and Keenum was 21-33 for 199 yards in his lone start against the Broncos earlier this year. Running back Nick Chubb was also reported to have been dealing with a rib issue last week, which explained his absence from several series. Thus, there is no guarantee he will play as well.

With so much in flux and the Bengals seemingly not having much to gain or lose, we are not likely to see their explosive offense completely intact this week. In addition, we do not expect Cleveland to be fielding an offensive juggernaut as well, so the safest play is the under.

Browns vs. Bengals Pick

Mike Spector
@MikeSpector01

Mike Spector brings unmatched knowledge and insight into the game of football, and more importantly the process of betting on NFL football. Mike is the #2 ranked expert in FantasyPros' NFL betting contest

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