The Cleveland Browns aren’t in must-win territory quite yet, but the must-win welcome center is on the horizon. Cleveland’s Monday Night Football showdown with cross-state rival Cincinnati is a critical one for a team who is seeing its playoff hopes fade with each passing week.
The Browns and Bengals meet in a key AFC North matchup to cap off Week 8 action in the NFL. The Bengals are tied for the divisional lead and riding a two-game winning streak with an offense that has exploded in recent outings.
The Browns, meanwhile, have lost four straight games and are looking at a second straight divisional loss if they don’t come through on Monday Night.
Monday, October 31, 2022 – 08:15 PM EDT at FirstEnergy Stadium
The defending AFC champions looked like they might suffer a Super Bowl hangover when they lost back-to-back games to open the 2022 season. Coach Zac Taylor didn’t panic, however, and his patience paid off. The Bengals have won four of five since and moved above .500 for the first time this season with Sunday’s win over the Falcons.
“Well, I hope you all listened to me as I got up here at 0-2 and said just be patient,” Taylor said. “This season is very young.”
Quarterback Joe Burrow is also very young, but he’s maturing fast and had a career day against Atlanta. He threw for 481 yards and three touchdowns, adding another one on a scoring run. Taylor said it’s time to consider Burrow along with Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen as one of NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
Burrow has an outstanding group of receivers: Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase each had 100-yard receiving days on Sunday and Tee Higgins just missed at 93.
Bengals’ Defensive Roster
The Bengals’ defense has held four of the last five opponents below 20 points, but it might be facing some adversity on the injury front.
End Trey Hendrickson went down in Sunday’s game with a neck injury. He’s the latest member of Cincinnati’s front seven to suffer an injury. DJ Reader will likely miss Monday’s game, as will tackle Josh Tupou. Linebacker Logan Wilson is week-to-week after missing Sunday’s game with a hurt shoulder.
The Browns were improved on Sunday, but not enough to get past the Ravens. The defense has been a weak spot all year, giving up 68 points over the previous two games, but it held explosive Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson in check. Nick Chubb also led the Browns on the ground with a big day.
The team made enough mistakes to lose, however, and there were no bright spots afterward, as players and coaches could be heard screaming at each other while the team went through post-game press conferences in the room next door.
The team downplayed the incident, saying it was just the players showing “passion” and “fight” but it remains to be seen how the Browns bounce back after the frustrating loss.
The team will likely have to find a way to score with Cincinnati without the services of tight end David Njoku, who is in third place in the NFL in tight end receiving yards and it tied for the team lead in catches. Njoku sprained his ankle and is expected to miss two-to-five weeks.
On defense, linebacker Jacob Phillips had season-ending surgery on a torn pectoral muscle.
Cornerback Denzel Ward, a key piece in the Browns’ chances to defend Cincinnati’s prolific passing game, has also missed two straight games after suffering his third concussion in five years in the NFL. He remains in the concussion protocol, and his status is up in the air for the game.
The Betting Pick
The Browns swept the Super Bowl-bound Bengals last year, winning in both Cleveland and Cincinnati, and the Browns are the team more desperate for a win.
Still, it will be tough for Cleveland’s defense, made shakier by injury, to contain Burrow and all of his wide receiver targets. The game may be closer than the Bengals like, but it should still be a cover.
NFL Pick: Bengals -3.5 (-102) at MaximBet