A year ago when QB Johnny Manziel was about to make his first start for the Browns in Week 15, the betting public jumped on his bandwagon. The Browns quickly went from a 2.5-point home underdog to a 1.5-point favorite.
Of course, in that game Johnny Football was a colossal flop in helping Cleveland generate only 107 yards of total offense, the worst performance of any team in the league in the 2014 regular season. Cincinnati won, 30-0.
Now he's back again vs. Cincinnati, with coach Mike Pettine announcing rather reluctantly at midweek that Manziel would start Thursday night's game in place of the battered and bruised Josh McCown. Only this time, the spread has moved in the Bengals' direction, for Cincinnati opened as a 10.5-point choice.
Anyway, now for a closer look at the game. The odds are provided by Westgate Las Vegas.
THURSDAY – PRO FOOTBALL
Cleveland Browns (2-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-0)
Time: 5:25 p.m. PT
Line: Bengals by 11.5 (46)
Facts: Cincinnati is the only team unbeaten against the line this year, going 6-0-1. The push came against Seattle... Until this week, the spread on all Bengals games were 3.5 points or less… The Bengals haven't been this heavy a choice over Cleveland since being installed as a 13-point pick in 2009. The host Bengals won 16-7... Cleveland won in Cincinnati last year 24-3, the most lopsided road victory in the 17-year history of the new Browns. Bengals QB Andy Dalton had a passer rating of 2.0 in that game, the worst for any starter in the league last season not named Geno Smith… Cincinnati countered in Cleveland in that thrashing in Week 15, with the Browns running a season-low 38 plays and getting five first downs. It was one of only three wins of 30-plus points for an underdog in 2014… Flashback: In 2004, Cincinnati beat Cleveland 58-48 in the second-highest scoring game in league history… In Manziel's only other start this year, he was 8-for-15 for 172 yards as the Browns beat Tennessee 28-14.
Analysis: The Browns are famously one of the crummiest teams defending the run, allowing 147 rush yards a game, which is even worse than their last-place unit from 2014. Adding to their misery this week is the fact they likely will be down two DBs from last game (CB Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner). Compounding problems is that they'll be facing the No. 4-rated QB in Andy Dalton. In three previous games against passers currently rated No. 7 or better, the Browns have yielded an average of 463 yards of total offense, including 491 to the Carson Palmer-led Cardinals, who won 34-20 last week in the Dawg Pound.
On offense, the Browns also will be without injured TE Brian Hartline, who caught two TD passes from McCown last week. If Manziel plays true to form, he'll probably have two fumbles and give Cincinnati a few chances at interceptions by throwing across his body while trying to avoid a sack. Although he did have TD passes of 60 and 50 yards to Travis Benjamin in his lone start, he was 6-for-13 for 62 yards on his other throws. On a short week of preparation and playing for a franchise that all but hung out the "for sale" sign on top players the past week, the Browns probably aren't in the proper frame of mind to tangle with this undefeated team.
Forecast: Bengals 30, Browns 9
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].