Two cross-state rivals meet in a key AFC North matchup as Monday Night Football wraps up NFL Week 8 action on Halloween night. The Cincinnati Bengals enter having won back-to-back games to move into a first-place tie with the Ravens in the North, with a 4-3 record.
The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, desperately need a win to hold onto fading playoff hopes after losing four straight games to drop into a last-place tie in the division. Despite a 2-5 record, the Browns are 1-1 in division games, which gives them a chance at a tiebreaker edge over division rivals and puts more weight on the clash with the Bengals.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns
Monday, October 31, 2022 – 08:15 PM EDT at FirstEnergy Stadium
On a Roll
The Bengals opened the season as defending AFC champions but proceeded to drop their first two games, leading to panic in Cincinnati. But coach Zac Taylor stayed the course, and the Bengals responded by winning four of their next five and moving above .500 for the first time this season after blowing out the Falcons on Sunday.
“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.”
Success on Both Sides
Quarterback Joe Burrow is coming off a career game, with 481 yards passing and 3 touchdowns through the air and one on the ground. Taylor compared his quarterback to Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, the top two passers in the league.
Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase each had 100-yard receiving days, while Tee Higgins fell seven yards short of joining them.
With Burrow having so much success through the air, it’s easy to overlook a run game that has struggled all season. Joe Mixon had just 58 yards on the ground.
The Bengals’ defense has also been stout, holding four of the last five opponents below 20 points. The team lost end, Trey Hendrickson, in the second half, however after he hurt his neck.
Hendrickson joins a number of injured members on the Bengals’ defensive front. DJ Reader is expected to miss Monday’s game, as is tackle Josh Tupou. Linebacker Logan Wilson is week-to-week after missing Sunday’s game with a shoulder problem.
The Browns showed signs of hope in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. The defense, which struggled, giving up 68 points over the previous two games, was able to contain explosive Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, and the Cleveland run game, led by Nick Chubb, put up big numbers.
Penalties, turnovers, and questionable decisions doomed the team to yet another loss, and any optimism was far removed as players and coaches could be heard screaming at each other in the locker room before media was let in after the game.
Players downplayed the outburst, saying it showed that the players had “passion” and “fight” but it remains to be seen how the Browns bounce back after the frustrating loss.
Making matters worse, the team is expected to be without tight end David Njoku, who is in third place in the NFL in tight end receiving yards and is tied for the team lead in catches. Njoku sprained his ankle and is expected to miss two-to-five weeks.
The team also lost linebacker Jacob Phillips, who needed 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 the last two 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.
When divisional rivals play, the lower-rated team frequently finds a way to spring the upset.
Cleveland swept Super Bowl-bound Cincinnati in both games last season, and the Browns are playing at home. Still, it’s a big ask to expect the Cleveland defense to find a way to shut down Burrow and all of his targets.
For your NFL picks, look for the Bengals to pull away.
NFL Pick: Bengals -3.5 (-110) at BetMGM