A reminder that from this Thursday night game forward, they are televised on only the NFL Network and no longer also on CBS. The Thursday games this season, as in past, have been pretty lousy football, but they aren't going anywhere because they draw big ratings and it's just more money for the NFL.
This week is the battle for Ohio but an apparent mismatch between Cincinnati, which is 7-0 for the first time in franchise history and one of four unbeatens left, against a Cleveland team that is 2-6 and will miss the playoffs yet again. I'm still not 100 percent sold on the Bengals. The only team they have beaten currently with a winning record is Oakland. But you can't ignore home wins over Seattle and Pittsburgh, even though the Bengals easily could have lost both and really should have to the Seahawks. But they might also clinch the AFC North by the end of November with 3.5-game lead over Pittsburgh. Cincinnati will be a big favorite next Monday night at home vs. Houston as well. Thus, it should be going for 10-0 in Week 11 at Arizona, which has been flexed to the Sunday night game. The Bengals are +1400 at Bovada to win the Super Bowl and +550 to take the AFC.
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The Browns are laughable, and I'm not sure Coach Mike Pettine returns next season. The team was ready to punt on the season as it was close to dealing Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas to Denver for first- and second-round picks in 2016, but the teams couldn't close it by Tuesday's NFL trade deadline. Thomas might be the league's best left tackle, but getting a 1 and 2 for him would have been a great deal for Cleveland considering Thomas is soon-to-be 31. Thomas has never missed a game in his career -- 136 consecutive regular-season starts that span 8,443 consecutive snaps played -- and he has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his eight seasons. He actually didn't want to be traded.
Browns at Bengals Betting Story Lines
The big story for this game, and probably the only reason it's moderately interesting, is that Johnny Manziel will get the start at quarterback for Cleveland. Usual starter Josh McCown has been pretty good at times this season but is dealing with a rib injury. Maybe if this game was Sunday, McCown might have been able to go. At this point, the Browns might as well see what they have in Manziel. It will be his fourth career start. He went in Week 2 against the Titans and the Browns won 28-14. He was 8-for-15 for 172 yards, and two touchdowns while rushing three times for a yard. The Titans stink, though. In three games this season, Manziel has completed 28 of 50 passes for 393 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Cleveland is going to be very short-handed here. Two of the team's top receivers, Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline, suffered concussions in last week's 24-6 loss to the Rams and aren't going to be cleared in time. Also dealing with the same problem are Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner.
Bengals MVP candidate Andy Dalton had probably his worst game of the season in Sunday's 16-10 win at the Steelers but got the job done. He completed 23-for-38 for 231 yards, a TD and a pick. He hit A.J. Green on a 9-yard go-ahead score with 2:57 left. Green had another big game with 11 catches for 118 yards. If you want to nitpick from that, the Bengals were outgained 356-296 and had 10 penalties.
Cincinnati suffered two key injuries in the Pittsburgh win. Right tackle Andre Smith suffered a concussion and surely won't play Thursday. It's also not looking good for linebacker Rey Maualuga, who has a calf injury.
These teams split two meetings last year, but in the opposite way you would expect. In Week 10, also on a Thursday, Cleveland pulled off a 24-3 shocker in Cincinnati. The Browns held the Bengals to 11 first downs and 165 total yards, picking off Dalton three times (he threw for only 86 yards). Cleveland held the ball for nearly 36 minutes and rushed for 170 yards. The Browns snapped their streak of 17 straight losses to division opponents on the road. It was Cleveland's most lopsided win in Cincinnati since a 34-0 victory in 1987 with replacement players. In Week 15 in Cleveland, the Bengals won 30-0. That was Manziel's first NFL start and he was totally overwhelmed, going 10-for-18 for 80 yards with two picks and three sacks. The Browns had five first downs and 107 total yards. Dalton and Green didn't do much for Cincinnati, but the Bengals rushed for 244 yards and three touchdowns.
Browns at Bengals Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Cincinnati is a 12.5-point favorite (+105) with a total of 45.5. On the moneyline, the Bengals are -650 and the Browns +475. On alternate lines, Cincy is -13 (+113), -12 (-105), -11.5 (-110), -11 (-118) and -10.5 (-125). Cleveland is 4-4 against the spread (2-2 on road) and 7-1 "over/under" (3-1 on road). Cincinnati is 6-0-1 ATS (2-0-1 at home) and 5-2 O/U (2-1 at home).
The Browns have covered five straight on Thursday. They are 7-2 in their past nine following an ATS loss and 9-4-1 ATS in their past 14 after a SU loss. Cincinnati is 6-0 ATS in its past six vs. the AFC. It has covered 15 of its past 21 at home. But the Bengals are 1-4 ATS in their past five on Thursday. The over is 6-0 in Cleveland's past six vs. the AFC. The under is 5-0 in the Bengals' past five in November. The underdog has covered 13 of the past 16 meetings.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Browns at Bengals Betting Predictions
Obviously no question which is the better team. But this seems like a potential letdown game for the Bengals off last week's big win in Pittsburgh that all but wrapped up the North Division. Cleveland has nothing to play for, and sometimes that's the most dangerous type of team. We might see some trick plays here. I'd feel more comfortable taking the 12.5 points with McCown in there, but I'm still going to. Go under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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