Cincinnati and Cleveland both look to bounce back from Week 1 losses when they clash on Thursday Night Football. Read on for an NFL Betting Pick with analysis.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns
Thursday, September 17, 2020 – 8:20pm EST at FirstEnergy Stadium
The biggest betting mistake, which happens every year, is to derive too many conclusions from Week 1 results. But this common mistake in no way suggests that we should simply expect teams to produce an opposite impression in Week 2.
Understanding why Cleveland lost 38-6 will help inform our NFL Betting Pick for this week’s upcoming contest.
Understanding What Happened To Cleveland
It’s easy to point to Cleveland’s new coaching staff and suggest that, especially without a preseason, the disorder should have been expected against a top-caliber Baltimore squad that featured significant continuity from last season.
But look at Carolina and Washington. Both teams similarly had new coaches and new key personnel and, still, Washington won and Carolina led late in the fourth quarter. Actually, I think that the Browns struggled so much largely because they were not new enough, not different enough from the team that lost 31-15 late last year to Baltimore.
Passing Game Troubles
One piece of continuity was Baker Mayfield. Mechanically, he remained flat-footed and otherwise insufficient as he tried to drop back and throw.
He tried to force the ball to Odell Beckham Jr., the hyped-up diva, and has-been who represents continuous cancer to Cleveland’s big-named receiving corps with his relentless ego and his disappointments on the field.
While OBJ only caught three passes for 22 yards and showed alarmingly bad hands at times, Mayfield barely completed over half his passes and failed to reach 200 passing yards despite attempting 39 passes and having plenty of garbage time. Oddly enough, Cleveland’s new coach (Kevin Stefanski) seemed to don a Freddie Kitchens mask. Like last year, the Browns lined up a lot in shotgun with an empty backfield.
Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb represented Cleveland’s backfield very positively. Both running backs averaged over five YPC, combining for 132 yards on 23 carries. So why didn’t we see more of them? Baltimore had Cleveland behind double digits in the second quarter. The deficit created by the Ravens limited Cleveland’s playbook.
Offensively, Cleveland’s offense remains hopeless when too much pressure to perform is placed on Baker. He is not a leader and certainly not a mature leader. He’s not going to put Cleveland’s offense on his back.
But the Bengals are not a team with elite continuity at quarterback that is coming off a 14-2 season. They will at least not force the Browns into the kind of deficit that would compel them to limit their playbook.
Also with respect to its run defense, Cincinnati will pose a much softer test for Cleveland.
In Week 1, the Bengals surrendered 155 rushing yards to a Charger team without Melvin Gordon that doesn’t have the passing attack anymore to keep defenses honest. This is a Bengals squad that allowed the most rushing yards per game last year and misses starting defensive tackle Geno Atkins to injury.
With the Browns able to run both due to Cincinnati’s lack of run defense and due to the game being closer, we’ll see Kevin Stefanski in a comfortable position as Cleveland’s play-caller.
Last year with the Vikings, Stefanski had quarterback Kirk Cousins attempt play-action passes at one of the NFL’s highest rates. There’s no reason why he won’t have Mayfield attempt a lot of play-action passes especially because his comfort with this play-type is already well-known.
For all of his struggles last year, he completed 65.5 percent of his passes and accumulated close to 600 yards with a five-to-zero touchdown-to-interception ratio when attempting play-action passes from under center. Because Freddie Kitchens is not Kevin Stefanski, Mayfield only attempted 55 play-action passes under center.
Even if OBJ continues to be the OBJ of recent times, he’ll still demand the defense’s attention. Plus, Mayfield still has Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry to throw to in addition to Austin Hooper, who’s coming off a big season with Atlanta in 2019.
Fellow tight end David Njoku caught all three of his targets for 50 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game due to injury. Keep an eye on his status especially because Stefanski loves to get tight ends involved.
Bengals Pass Attack
After initially getting his feet wet, rookie Joe Burrow delivered a promising finish in Week 1’s loss to the Chargers. If a questionable offensive pass interference call were not made, he would have delivered the game-winning touchdown to A.J. Green.
Burrow grew especially comfortable after halftime adjustments enabled his offensive line to allow zero second-half sacks against L.A.’s star-studded defensive line. He also thrived as the Bengals lined up with five wide receivers.
With top receiver Green healthy and Tyler Boyd coming off a breakout year, the Bengals are strong at this position.
These wide receivers will often be open against a beleaguered Cleveland secondary that especially misses cornerback Greedy Williams to injury. After catching four of five targets, Giovani Bernard remains a consistent pass-catching option out of the backfield.
The linebacker was known to be a weakness for the Browns coming into the season. They miss Mack Wilson plus fellow starter Jacob Phillips after barely doing anything to replace the departed Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey.
Cleveland’s paltry back seven allowed Lamar Jackson to throw for 275 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions while completing 20 of 25 passes.
Don’t draw too many conclusions from Cleveland’s Week 1 debacle. I think one can even say that Coach Stefanski at some point decided to hide his offensive style after Baltimore had the game sealed.
With more suitable play-calling plus a strong supporting cast in the backfield, Mayfield will play a lot better. Cleveland will field a balanced offense against a weak and weakened Bengal run defense and a pass defense that faced a soft test in Week 1 but is mid-ranked by PFF.
Joe Burrow can counter Mayfield since he has his feet wet and he has sundry pass-catchers who will exploit a thin, vulnerable, and in some places woefully incompetent back seven. Top-rated sportsbooks have come out with a betting total that seems surprisingly low to me. For the above reasons, let’s take advantage.