Cleveland (2-6) at Cincinnati (7-0)
When: Thursday, November 5th 2015
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Time: 8:30 ET | TV: NFL Network
Johnny Manziel will get just his second start of the season when the struggling Cleveland Browns visit in-state rival Cincinnati on Thursday night. Starter Josh McCown is dealing with a rib injury and has been ruled out for the short week. Manziel got his first career start last year against these same Bengals and was humiliated throwing for 80 yards and two interceptions in a 30-0 loss. This season, Manziel is completing just 56% of his passes on 50 attempts with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. His QB rating is a 93.2, but its a very small sample size. The Browns have lost three straight and 5 of their last 6 overall. They had a 20-7 lead on Arizona last week before surrendering 27 unanswered points in a 34-20 setback. Cleveland has the second worst rushing attack in the league and its getting progressively worse. In the last two weeks, leading rusher Isaiah Crowell has 18 carries for just 23 yards. He’s only broken 50 yards twice this season with his best being 72 in week 2. The defense isn’t much better as they are dead last in stopping the run and 30th overall. They’re allowing 27 points a game and have only held their opponents to under 20 points once.
The Bengals are off to their best start in franchise history and are one of only four unbeaten teams left in the league. They have a commanding 3.5 game lead in the AFC North of the Steelers after last week’s 16-10 win in Pittsburgh. QB Andy Dalton had his worst game of the season last week, throwing multiple interceptions for the first time and posting a QB rating of just 64.7, but managed to throw the go-ahead touchdown pass to WR A.J. Green with just under three minutes to play. Green registered a season-high 11 catches for 118 yards and his first TD in four games to offset a ground game that was held to only 78 yards. RB Jeremy Hill should have a lot easier time tonight against a poor Browns rushing defense and the fact that he ran for 148 and two touchdowns the last time these two teams played. The 16 points the Bengals scored last week was a season-low, but they’re still ranked 3rd in the NFL averaging 28.3 points a game. Cincinnati is playing the first of three straight prime-time games tonight. They’ll host Houston next week before getting a really tough test at Arizona in Week 11.
This has all the makings of a blowout, but it is a division game and a rivalry game. I expect Manziel to have a much better showing than he did against Cincinnati last year. The Bengals defense isn’t that terrific ranking 22nd overall. 80% of the public is on the home team here, but I can easily see a back-door cover. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Bengals won by 30. If this game was on a Sunday afternoon, I would easily pass on it.
Pick: Browns +11.5