September 9, 2023, 4:47 pm
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns
Bengals (-130) @ Browns(+110): O/U 47.5
Bengals -2 (-110), Browns +2.(-110)
The NFC North might be the most stacked division in football and there are no weak links or easy wins in the division. The Bengals are coming off B2B AFC title games and are bringing back all their key players on offense while losing some key cogs on the defensive side of the ball. The Browns might be the most complete team in football and the only real question mark is whether Deshaun Watson can rekindle the magic he had playing for the Texans. All four teams in the north have a legit shot at making the playoffs and it will be important for both teams to start the season with a win. It’s a little surprising that the Bengals are laying two points on the road, but they are the class of the division until someone proves otherwise. All eyes will be on Watson and if he shows up, the Browns might not be an underdog at home for the rest of the season. I expect an extremely physical battle in the trenches with the Browns leaning on Nick Chubb and their stout offensive line and the Bengals letting Joe Burrow cook after signing the biggest deal in NFL history.
Main Storylines to Watch
QB Battle Royale: Watson looked washed in the six games he played last season and Joe Burrow is coming off a calf strain that pretty much took him out of training camp. It might be an oversimplification, but whichever QB shines brightest in Week 1 will probably give their team the edge they need. Burrow is about as reliable as it gets under center and if Browns’ cornerback Denzel Ward (concussion) doesn’t get cleared, it could open the floodgates for Ja’Maar Chase to run wild. The Browns are integrating Elijah Moore into the fold and the talk out of camp is that he is ready to breakout as the WR2 in his third season. If Watson can simply play Burrow to a draw, it will go a long way towards leveling the playing field in the position that has the largest variance between the two squads.
Styles Make Fights: While these teams are pretty even on paper, it’s the counters to counters that will decide this bloodbath. The Browns like to pound the ball with their zone-running scheme (6th in rushing last season), but the Bengals defend the run better than the pass (7th rush vs. 23rd pass). The Bengals love to control the game through the air (5th in passing), but it’s on the ground where the Browns’ defense (23rd vs. rush) was vulnerable last season. Will either team adapt to their opponent or continue to lean on what they do best. No matter what, the Browns will try and limit their exposure to Ja’Maar Chase and the Bengals will do everything in their power to keep Myles Garrett from pancaking Burrow.
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