The Cleveland Browns host the Cincinnati Bengals this weekend for a 1PM contest between 0-3 teams.
The Browns are fresh off a 31-28 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, while the Bengals are reeling following a blown second-half lead and eventual 27-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Both AFC North teams come into this contest with question marks across the board. Cleveland has struggled to help quarterback DeShone Kizer in the passing game with a ton of drops and penalties. Likewise, Cincinnati just fired its offensive coordinator two weeks ago.
With last week’s poor performance, the Browns are three-point underdogs in Sunday’s contest. Without further ado, here’s this week’s predictions.
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Against the Colts, Johnson significantly outplayed Crowell. The Miami (FL) product totaled 104 yards on just eight touches, while finding the end zone. Meanwhile, Crowell managed 54 yards on 14 touches. Sure, Johnson only had two carries, but one of them was a 19-yard touchdown.
It is clear he needs more work.
Crowell has just not been himself all year as he is only averaging about 2.9 yards per carry. He is a better inside runner than Johnson, but Crowell has been so ineffective this year that it is time for a change.
Johnson is explosive and shifty; he also catches the ball great out of the backfield. It is time for him to get more touches, and the coaching staff may finally be seeing that.
This quote from Browns running backs coach Kirby Wilson shows Johnson’s strong play is not going unnoticed. It is just a matter of time until there is a change of the guard in the backfield.
The Bengals are 24th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed this year, ceding 129.7 yards per game. They also have allowed 18 receptions to opposing running backs in the past two weeks. Based upon this, the Browns should have success on the ground and through the air with their backs.
However, it is much more likely to be Johnson than Crowell.
It is no coincidence that Johnson has back-to-back games with 80 or more total yards, while Crowell has yet to eclipse more than 66 total yards in any game this year. Expect Johnson’s role to continue to grow this weekend, especially with the Browns likely to be playing from behind.
2. After making an incredible catch last week, wide receiver Jordan Leslie catches his first career touchdown on Sunday.
Leslie was signed to the practice squad last week, and eventually elevated to the active roster, after failing to survive final cuts prior to the season. He made an immediate impact, making one of the best catches in the NFL in recent memory.
For some odd reason though, this was the only catch Leslie recorded last week. The coaching staff went back to: Kenny Britt and Ricardo Louis, who could not stop dropping passes; and Rashard Higgins, who had multiple offensive pass interference penalties.
In fact, Leslie played just 21 snaps in a game where Kizer threw the ball 47 times.
Cleveland knows what they have in many of their low-upside weapons. It is time for Leslie to get more playing time going forward. He flashed in the preseason with nine catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns, and the Browns need to know if this was simple an aberration or if Leslie can replicate this.
Desperate for a win, head coach Hue Jackson should throw Leslie out there much more than last week. If this happens, there is a strong chance he scores his first-career touchdown. The Browns need touchdown makers, and Leslie proved he can be one of those if given a fair chance.
3. Despite being listed as questionable, defensive end Myles Garrett makes his NFL regular-season debut.
This was actually set to be a prediction for last week until Garrett was ruled doubtful on Friday. However, this week, the first overall pick was able to put in limited practices the last two days this week and is listed as questionable. It is a great step in the right direction, after Garrett suffered a high-ankle sprain while preparing for Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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The Browns have been relatively quiet about Garrett’s status for this week, simply offering vague comments about whether he will play or not. Coach Jackson told reporters the team would “huddle with the medical team and the football staff and see what’s best,” while defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said “when he’s ready to cut it loose and there are no setbacks, he’ll be fine and we’ll use him in a lot of different ways.”
These comments could be foreshadowing another week on the sidelines for Garrett. However, he worked out last week before the Colts game and was reportedly close to playing. By getting in limited practice this week, the Browns could use him in a heavy rotation, playing him primarily on passing downs.
Once again, Cleveland and coach Jackson are DESPERATE for a win. There is no way Jackson imagined starting his career 1-18 in Cleveland.
Just getting Garrett on the field will be huge for the defense, and there is a good chance he can be effective even in a limited role. Sure, there is no reason to throw him out there for 95 percent of the snaps following a high-ankle sprain.
However, even if Garrett plays 40 percent of the snaps, he will impact the game. Garrett believes that to be true as well, and he will push to get on the field this weekend.
4. Browns secondary struggles once again, as A.J. Green totals 150 yards receiving.
After complaining about his lack of targets over the first two weeks, Green broke out last week. He shredded the Packers secondary for 10 catches, 113 yards and one touchdown. The Packers and Browns do not have much in common, but something that is apparent is the lack of talent in the secondary.
It is well advertised that the Browns struggled last week holding Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton under control. The speedy wideout had seven catches for 153 yards and one touchdown. He beat cornerback Jamar Taylor many times and safety Jabrill Peppers missed a huge tackle on Hilton’s touchdown.
Peppers also committed a brutal pass interference penalty which prevented Hilton from another long touchdown. Green presents different challenges than Hilton.
The latter is just 5’9″, 178 pounds, while the former is 6’4″, 210 pounds. The Bengal is a big, physical receiver with great hands and outstanding body control. He does not possess Hilton’s speed, but he still has the ability to run away from defensive backs.
It is not fair to expect Taylor to completely shut Green down, but holding him under 100 yards would be a huge victory for the Browns. However, I do not think that is feasible.
Last year, Green played in just one game against the Browns, but he had eight catches for 169 yards and a touchdown. That is much more likely to happen once again.
5. An upset bid falls short as the Browns fall to 0-4.
The last two weeks, I have picked the Browns to defeat the Baltimore Ravens and Colts. This week, it will not happen again. It is time to face the facts and realize that the Browns may still be the worst team in the NFL despite all the improvements the team made over the offseason.
Cincinnati gets linebacker Vontaze Burfict back after his three-game suspension to open the season and will be a huge jolt for the Bengals defense. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is likely to abuse the interior offensive line for the Browns and will give Kizer troubles all afternoon.
However, the X-factor, as previously mentioned, is Green. The Browns simply do not have anyone that can match up with him and slow him down. It is almost a given that Green has a few back-breaking catches that keep the Browns from getting any momentum in the game.
Ultimately, the Browns should play better at home. Remember, the team almost defeated the Steelers in Week 1 in Cleveland. Still, the Browns are overmatched, and it will show once again Sunday.
Prediction: 23-17 Bengals