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    Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Matchups, prediction for battle of Ohio

    How do the matchups shape up for this Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals game, and what is our prediction for how it may turn out?

    Lost in the drama this week has been an important Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals matchup that is tricky to weigh from a predictions perspective after both teams lost in drastically different styles last week. Let’s break down the matchups as the Browns take on the Bengals, look at the NFL odds, and make a prediction of how things may go in Cincinnati.

    Cleveland Browns offense vs. Cincinnati Bengals defense

    Cleveland’s offense heads into this game against the Bengals as a tricky unit to predict. They are coming off a three-game stretch that has seen them average just 13.7 points per game. In the first four weeks, the Browns were averaging 28.4 points per game, demonstrating how big the drop-off in their offense has been.

    This week, the Browns face a Bengals defense that has generally been strong this season. However, they just gave up 34 points to a Mike White-led Jets team. Therefore, there could be opportunities for the Browns to get their offense clicking in Week 9.

    Baker Mayfield vs. Cincinnati Bengals defense

    Personally, this has likely been a tough week for Mayfield. The media attention around Odell Beckham Jr. has centered as much around Mayfield as the disgruntled receiver. However, that needs to be put aside as the Browns face a game that could make or break their season in many ways. Mayfield has struggled on the field, but his injuries have not helped.

    On Friday, Jim Trotter quoted some intriguing numbers from Next Gen Stats on NFL Network. Last season, Mayfield had a designed rollout on 15% of his passes. Since the start of 2020, in games where that number was 19% or more, the Browns went 5-1. This season, that number is down to 8% and 7% since the injury in Week 2. In games where Mayfield has had a rollout percentage of less than 5% since the start of 2020, the Browns are 1-4.

    Those numbers are intriguing because it demonstrates how a limited version of Mayfield is detrimental to the offense’s success. As he recovers, those numbers should increase, but the damage is occurring right now. This matchup with the Bengals’ defense will not be easy for a limited Mayfield to navigate.

    The Bengals rank in the top 10 in the league in passer rating allowed (88.3). Their passing touchdown percentage is the third-best in the league, and they allow just 6.9 yards per pass attempt this season. This will be a matchup where the Browns need Mayfield to give them all he can in his limited state.

    Advantage: Bengals

    Browns skill-position players vs. Bengals secondary

    Cleveland’s receivers could go either way with the departure of Beckham. We saw the likes of Donovan Peoples-Jones and Rashard Higgins step up in Beckham’s absence last season. The three of them have essentially all seen equal snap numbers this year, but now the expectation is that one of Peoples-Jones or Higgins will see a bump.

    Initially, that could be Higgins, given Peoples-Jones has missed the last two games before returning to practice this week. However, DPJ has been the more reliable receiver this season. He has caught 13 of 15 targets for 228 yards and 2 touchdowns. The departure of Beckham could give Peoples-Jones the chance to demonstrate what an asset he can be alongside Jarvis Landry, who is expected to be somewhat limited this week with a knee injury.

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    The Bengals have had a mixed group in terms of their secondary. Chidobe Awuzie has been superb, allowing just 29 receptions on 54 targets at 4.5 yards per completion. Eli Apple has been similarly impressive with a 62.8% completion rate and 5.7 yards allowed per completion.

    Others are not fairing as well. Mike Hilton is allowing a 73.8% completion rate at 6.2 yards per reception. Safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III are both allowing a passer rating over 100 when targeted. The most interesting contrast is linebacker Logan Wilson. He has allowed 34 completions on 40 targets, but of those 6 incompletions, 4 have been interceptions. With the turmoil at receiver for the Browns this week, the edge has to go to the Bengals. Yet, last week demonstrated that this unit can be exploited.

    Advantage: Bengals

    Browns offensive line vs. Bengals defensive front

    The Browns’ offensive line has been extremely impressive this year in the run game. The contest that really highlighted that was their Thursday Night Football matchup against the Denver Broncos. With Nick Chubb out, many expected D’Ernest Johnson to struggle, but the physicality and skill of the offensive line helped Johnson to 146 yards on 22 carries.

    However, this is a good matchup against a Bengals team allowing an average of just 3.9 yards per carry. That number, good enough for fifth-best in the league, has seen them hold four of their eight opponents this season under 100 rushing yards.

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    The passing side of the battle will be equally as intriguing. That has been the slight Achilles heel of the Browns this season. They have allowed Mayfield and Case Keenum to be sacked on 8.7% of dropbacks this season. Only the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks have performed worse this season.

    Yet, the Bengals have only been slightly above average rushing the passer. Their pressure rate of 24.9% has converted into a sack rate of 6%. Both of those numbers are marginally above average. What they have done well is rush the ball out of the QBs hands. Their hurry rate is the fourth-best in the league at 13.4%. With the run game essentially even, the Bengals have the slight edge rushing the passer.

    Advantage: Bengals (marginally)

    Cincinnati Bengals offense vs. Cleveland Browns defense

    If the Bengals’ offense continues playing how they have in recent weeks, this game should not even be close come the end of four quarters. In their last three games, Cincinnati has scored an average of 35.3 points per game and ranks seventh in the league in points scored.

    Throw in that the Browns allowed an average of 42 points per game in Weeks 5 and 6, and it looks even more clear-cut. While AFC North matchups are usually tightly fought affairs, the Bengals beat the Ravens 41-17 as recently as two weeks ago.

    Joe Burrow vs. Browns defense

    There is a lot to like about what Joe Burrow has been doing under center this year. He is completing 67.9% of his passes, has an 8.1% passing touchdown rate, is averaging 9.0 yards per pass attempt, and has one of the best passer ratings in the league at 108.0. With that has come 9 interceptions, but in large part, the good has outweighed the bad.

    Cleveland’s defense has trended on the other side of that, where the bad outweighs the good. While they are only allowing a 61.4% completion rate, they have the fifth-worst touchdown rate in the league. Meanwhile, their interception rate (1.1%) and third-down conversion rate are among the bottom 10 in the league. Burrow should have a reasonably clear advantage in this one.

    Advantage: Bengals

    Bengals skill-position players vs. Browns secondary

    The Bengals’ skill-position options have been superb. Ja’Marr Chase was our Offensive Rookie of the Month and in the discussion for the Offensive Player of the Month. Tee Higgins is struggling a little, but Tyler Boyd continues to have a solid season.

    Meanwhile, C.J. Uzomah just produces for the offense. He has turned his 23 targets into 21 receptions for 289 yards and 5 touchdowns. The RBs have also chipped in 4 receiving scores, making for a well-rounded group.

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    However, this battle could be intriguing. Greedy Williams has allowed just a 56.5% completion rate on 39 targets, and John Johnson III has been extremely effective when stepping into coverage, which he could on Uzomah this week. Denzel Ward’s hamstring has him questionable, and if he is active, it would perhaps be unwise to have him shadowing the explosive Chase.

    Having Greg Newsome II back is important. The rookie corner has allowed just 14 completion on 22 targets with 0 TDs allowed. He has outperformed Troy Hill, who has allowed 2 touchdowns on his 22 targets. Cleveland’s linebackers have struggled in coverage, so look for the Bengals to try and test that area of the defense with their backs and tight ends.

    Advantage: Push

    Bengals offensive line vs. Browns defensive front

    Cincy’s offensive line has been better than many expected. It has still really only been a league-average group, but that indicates just how low expectations were. For as solid as they have looked in the run game, it has not translated to great results, with the team averaging just 3.9 yards per rush attempt. The results are similar in pass protection (below league average), but not the disaster we might have expected.

    This is where the Browns can take control of the game. They have allowed opponents just 3.5 yards per rush attempt (second-best in the league). Their pressure (27.8%) and sack (7.7%) rates are among the best in the league in terms of rushing the passer. If the Browns can make life uncomfortable for Burrow and restrict his running game, they can hopefully keep the score to a manageable level.

    Advantage: Browns

    Betting line and game prediction

    Had the Bengals swept the Jets aside last week, this line vs. the Browns would be significantly different. As it stands, the Bengals are favorites by around a field goal, and that simply seems to be too low. The Bengals have the edge in several areas, most notably, how explosive their offense has been.

    That said, the Browns can cause trouble with their pass rush and run defense. If they can transfer the pressure to Burrow and get him looking for the rush, Cleveland can force mistakes. If they can cause a couple of turnovers while playing clean football on offense, the Browns could put themselves firmly back in the AFC North race. It appears to be a long shot, but it is possible if all goes to plan.

    Browns vs. Bengals Prediction: Bengals 27, Browns 21

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