This week, the Cleveland Browns will take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Part II of the Battle of Ohio. The big story that has me really amped up for this game? The prospect of running back Peyton Hillis making a surprise return to the lineup. Can he, along with the Browns' recent improvements on offense, help lead Cleveland to an upset?
|QB||In Week 1 against the Browns, Andy Dalton was 10-of-15 for 81 yards and a touchdown before leaving with an injury. It has been a very solid season for Dalton, and his comeback ability has been impressive. You just wonder if he has become too dependent on wide receiver A.J. Green at times. Green has made a lot of terrific jump ball touchdown catches this season, but that's not always going to work. Without him last week, Dalton looked like a rookie as he threw three interceptions against Baltimore.
Colt McCoy was 19-of-40 for 213 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interceptions against the Bengals in Week 1. He has played much better over the past two weeks, completing over 72% of his passes and is starting to throw the ball down the field more often. Though the Bengals have had the better offense this year, I don't think you can give an edge to either guy here at this point.
|RB||Benson's best game of the season came against the Browns, and he got stronger as the game went on. That's the opposite of what the Browns' run defense has been lately, where they get better as the game goes on. Benson has only been getting around 60 yards per game as of late as Cincinnati has started giving more carries to backup Bernard Scott, who is breaking some big runs.
The Browns are facing the best-ranked run defense in the league, and if all they had was Chris Ogbonnaya, Cincinnati would definitely have the edge here. All of a sudden though, it sounds like Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty are coming back. Even if they aren't at full strength, it helps the Browns at this position when it comes to blocking and receiving.
|WR||Unfortunately for the Browns, A.J. Green is not going to miss two games in a row. Since his meeting with Joe Haden in Week 1, Green has taken the league by storm. Besides Green, Jerome Simpson is having quite the season as well, almost matching Green's productivity. To cap things off, tight end Jermaine Gresham is a force as one of Dalton's favorite targets.
It will be interesting to see if the Browns continue to deploy some of the same receiver sets they had last week with the likes of Jordan Norwood playing in the slot and Joshua Cribbs pulling off some trickery to keep the defense guessing. The Browns' tight ends did some damage in Week 1 with two receiving touchdowns.
|OL||The offensive line had its best game of the season last week, but they'll be going up against a very tough, rotational front this week. If Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao can deliver solid efforts for the third week in a row, I might be more optimistic about them moving forward. The Bengals' line has been keeping Dalton well-protected, as he has only been sacked 14 times in 10 games.
|DL||Funny enough, 3 of those 14 sacks that Dalton has taken came in the first half of the Week 1 matchup between these two teams. Can Cleveland's defensive line bring the heat like they did in that game? The Bengals are extremely tough to run against up front, and with eight different players they are confident in, our offensive line will have to maintain a high level of intensity all game to prevent McCoy from taking a beating.
|LB||There's no doubt that Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita will be strictly business again this week. Can the tandem come up with some of the clutch defensive plays they've been making the past few weeks? I don't see this unit as a strength or a liability for either team in this game, but you'd always like to see someone from your unit step up and make the game-changing play.
|DB||I think losing Leon Hall is a big detriment to the Bengals' defense. They do have a lot of big names as depth (Nate Clements, Kelly Jennings, Pacman Jones), but that is a group of players that is either no longer in their prime or never really lived up to expectations. The Browns' secondary continues to limit the damage against the opposition, but one thing to watch is Usama Young. The reason he led the team in tackles last week is because Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis had so many catches. You can bet the Bengals will try to exploit Young-on-Gresham.
|ST||Remember another element that sort of cost the Browns in Week 1: they played with an injured punter. Mike Nugent is 18-of-19 on field goals this year, but hasn't tried one over 50 yards. I thought Bengals punter Kevin Huber killed the ball in Week 1. As it turns out, that was his best game of the season. The Bengals' Brandon Tate is a big threat on punt returns, so hopefully Brad Maynard continues to angle the ball away from returners.
I am pumped about the thought of Hillis returning and making an impact. I have it all played out in my mind how the Browns can come away with a victory here, but I'm going to go with the Bengals because they've been doing a good job of closing out games prior to the past two weeks against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Their tough run defense will be hard to break because of how deep their defensive front is, and that's one of the big reason's Cleveland's offense looked better last week.
FINAL PREDICTION: Cincinnati Bengals 20, Cleveland Browns 14
CHRIS' OVERALL NFL PREDICTIONS RECORD: 104-57
CHRIS' RECORD AT PICKING BROWNS GAMES: 6-4