Cincinnati Bengals (9-2 SU, 9-1-1 ATS) vs. Cleveland Browns (2-9 SU, 4-7 ATS)
NFL Week 13
Date/Time: December 6/1pm ET
Where: First Energy Stadium
by Evergreen, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CIN -10/CLE +10
Over/Under Total: 43.5
Another Thanksgiving in the books brings with it another calendar flip and it is time for the NFL contenders to really put the pedal down as they make their push to the playoffs. There are several teams that are on the other side of that coin and are already looking forward to next year or maybe playing spoiler to a division rival. Two such teams square off this Sunday in Cleveland as the Cincinnati Bengals look to stay on course against the Browns. The Bengals remain one of the biggest surprises of this NFL season and has a glimmer of hope to gain home field advantage in the AFC now that New England has lost. Cincinnati should roll when you play this game on paper but you never know what kind of results you play these late-season division games. That said, Cleveland is a bit of circus right now and standing in the middle of the big-top is Johnny Manziel. Distractions and questions are plenty in Cleveland right now, we will see how that affects the Browns this week as they try to upset the Bengals.
It is no surprise that Cincinnati is a heavy favorite this weekend and while this game is still off the board at some online betting sites, the most common available line has the Bengals as 10-point favorites. Cincinnati is riding a five game ATS winning streak on the road and has won 7-of-8 against the spread versus AFC teams. Cleveland is winless against the spread in their last five games overall but the underdog has 13 ATS wins in the last 17 meetings between these teams.
Immediately after being named the Browns starting QB for the remainder of the year, Johnny Manziel had some party video leak and was summarily demoted to third string. Manziel has been thrust back into relevance after Josh McCown suffered an injury during the last game but the plan is for Austin Davis to start with Manziel backing him up. Im sure there are players that dont care about the whole thing while others are tired of hearing about Manziel in general but this level of distraction is seldom productive for a team, especially one like Cleveland that lacks a winning culture and stable identity. For what it is worth, Manziel started in Cincinnati just about a month ago and made some plays before the Bengals eventually overwhelmed the Browns, eventually winning 31-10.
To make matters worse, Cleveland is coming off one of the more bizarre and heartbreaking losses of the year as a potential game winning field goal against the Ravens turned into a block-6 and a 33-27 Baltimore win as time expired. The Ravens are not a quality opponent, especially with all their injuries, but Cleveland had put up a spirited effort throughout that game only to fall in nearly inexplicable fashion. Professionals suit up week after week regardless of circumstances but it is hard to imagine the Browns having a high energy week of practice after that result, and they lose a day coming off MNF to boot. I dont like investing in intangibles but Cleveland has a lot of bad juju floating around this week.
Cincinnati is looking great to win the AFC North and now only needs to take care of its business and see what shakes out with Denver and New England. Andy is a fringe MVP candidate and the overall offensive production has been solid with the Bengals averaging 27 points per game. Cinci is top-10 in rushing yards and total yards and the combo of A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert have accounted for 18 touchdown grabs to pace the passing game. The defense in Cincinnati is bend-dont-break at its best as the Bengals will give up yards but enter the week as the stingiest scoring defense allowing just 17.5 points per game. Given that the Browns only average 19.4 points per game and are second to last in rush game production, expect another quality defensive performance for Cincinnati.
Injuries and a pretty clear lack of talent have left the Cleveland offense pretty toothless but most troubling is the performance of the defense. The Browns rank second to last with 28.2 points allowed per game and do not rank better than 25th in any yards allowed category. They have given up at least 27 points in eight of the last ten games, including every game in their current six-game losing streak. Austin Davis has some experience in the league and can play the game-manager role pretty well. Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge are legit targets in the pass game but the lack of running game really limits the efficiency on offense. Neither Isaiah Crowell nor Duke Johnson have averaged much more than three yards per carry on the season and a one dimension offense rarely succeeds in the NFL.
Cleveland, on a short week, with a back-up QB, surrounded by distraction seems very outmatched in this game. I could make the case that the Bengals will overlook this opponent but the loss by New England likely motivates Cincinnati to take care of business all the way to the tape. Jeremy Hill is questionable for the game but Gio Bernard is probably one of the best dual-threat running backs in the game and the Bengals dont lose much if Hill is out. Even Andy Daltons well-publicized struggles in primetime cant hurt the Bengals this week as a noon start time suits the Red Rifle just fine. No one is a big fan of laying double digits but I just cant make a case for Cleveland playing up to even Cincinnatis average effort. I think the offensive limitations of the Browns will even let the Bengals make a few mistakes and still cover. Look for a complete game and an easy win if not a dominant one as Cincinnati takes another step to the playoffs. Cincinnati 28 Cleveland 13
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Cincinnati
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