The AFC North has separated itself from the rest of the NFL, as all four teams sport winning records ahead of Week 10. With each team having a legitimate chance to make the playoffs, every divisional matchup is extremely crucial.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns are set to face off in an important contest on “Thursday Night Football.” Not only does the game have postseason implications, but it has historical significance in the Ohio rivalry.
Week 10 marks the rare occasion in which the Bengals and Browns will meet with teams having something on the line. It’s been nearly three decades since both teams made the playoffs, when they combined to win 22 games in the 1988 regular season.
Cleveland has just one postseason appearance since the franchise returned to the league in 1999, but they’ve proven that are for real in 2014. The Browns have won five of their first eight games, including victories against the six-win Pittsburgh Steelers and first-place New Orleans Saints.
It’s not much of a surprise that the Bengals sit atop the division at 5-2-1. They’ve reached the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, though they’ve never gotten past the first round.
The two rivals have had very similar seasons up to this point, failing to excel in any one area, but still playing well in close games. Cincinnati ranks 15th in total offense and 25th in defense, while going unbeaten in three one-possession games. Cleveland is tied for 19th in offense and ranks 22nd in yards allowed, getting four of their five wins by 10 points or less.
Both teams enter the contest having won two straight, but the Bengals appear to have the advantage. Starting Week 10 as six-point favorites, Cincinnati might be poised to extend their lead in the AFC North.
Playing at home gives Cincinnati a distinct edge. The Bengals haven’t lost at Paul Brown Stadium in the regular season since 2012, and the Browns have three fewer wins on the road. Cleveland hasn’t won more than one road game in a season since 2010.
Cleveland’s biggest weakness is its run defense, and Cincinnati will likely be able to exploit it. Even without Giovani Bernard, the Bengals’ running game didn’t miss a beat in Week 9. Jeremy Hill totaled 154 yards on 24 carries, and he could have another big game on Thursday. The Oakland Raiders are the Browns’ only opponent that didn’t break the century mark, but they have the worst running game in the entire NFL.
Bryan Hoyer has been one of the biggest surprises on the year, but he’s starting to perform as most expected he would. The quarterbacks has tossed two interceptions in Week 9, after having thrown just two picks in the first seven games. In Week 7, he had his worst game of 2014, completing 16 of 41 pass attempts for 215 yards.
The over/under is 44.5 total points. Cincinnati has scored at least 23 points in all but two games, while Cleveland has failed to reach 21 points just once.
PREDICTION: Cincinnati over Cleveland, 27-20