Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Last NFL season was a poor one for the fanatical football state of Ohio. Facing two of the nastiest, and talented teams in the NFL in their division- the Steelers and Ravens- the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns wilted to the tune of nine combined wins. After opening week one of these teams will have something they did not have all of last year- a winning record. The Browns are -6.5 favorites over the Bengals with an over/under point total set at 37.5.
The Bengals incurred one of the biggest collapses last year by going from first to worst in the division. They lost in the first round of the 2009-10 playoffs at home against the Jets, but had a lot of hope entering the 2010 season. Instead 2010 was a year filled with disappointment and turmoil, resulting in just four wins. Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley, and Jermaine Gresham were supposed to inject a middling offense. The cornerback tandem of Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall- along with young defenders such as Ray Maualuga- was supposed to fuel a stout defense. That never came close to happening. Now they are in full rebuilding mode. Andy Dalton was drafted to quarterback a more promising future; The Ochocinco-Owens reality TV duo was jettisoned, and Joseph left in free agency. Developing Dalton and identifying key pieces for the future should be the primary goals of the season. The playoffs are a pipe dream in this division.
Across the Buckeye state, the Browns mustered just one more win but were understandably cut a little more slack in the process. They made no improvement in the win column from 2009 to 2010, but were much more competitive. Cleveland was outscored by 60 points last season a year after being outscored by a whopping 130 points. Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy started half of the games and showed poise to go along with predictably pedestrian numbers. In defeating the Patriots and Saints (and nearly downing the Jets), Cleveland showed a lot of toughness and promise. The defense improved from a year ago, going from 21st to 13th in the league in points allowed. Rookie defensive backs Joe Haden (6 interceptions) and TJ Ward (123 tackles) added talent to a depleted unit. This year two more rookies will get thrust in to starting roles when top picks Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard suit up on the defensive line. If they pan out like last year’s class than this defense will have a strong young core for years to come. Offensively, left tackle Joe Thomas is an elite player at a premium position and running back Peyton Hillis (1177 yards) gave Browns fans more hope on the offensive side.
These division rivals (to use the term loosely) each held home field last year in the season series, narrowly winning relatively low-scoring games. With each team fairly low on veteran talent at the offensive skill positions, expect more of the same. There should be a heavy dose of Cedric Benson and Peyton Hillis given the youth at quarterback. I like the combination of Hillis and Mccoy more than Benson and Dalton, and Cleveland a little more overall (especially at home). Cincinnati can run the ball and play a little defense so I think it will be fairly close, but I like the Browns to cover.
Cleveland Browns -6.5 Cincinnati Bengals