Truthfully, I hate it when the Bengals and Browns play. I grew up in Cleveland, and am old enough to remember when the Bengals were created by Paul Brown in the old AFL. We thought, hey, great! Our former coach (fired by Art Modell, who would go down in infamy after moving the team to Baltimore) has started up a second pro team in Ohio! So we had two teams to root for, and I most of us were not all that enthralled by Art Modell anyway.
Regrettably, that situation changed with the merger of the leagues in 1970, with the Browns and Bengals in the same division. Of course, Paul Brown wanted desperately to beat the Browns, and Modell's team didn't want that to happen, so a rivalry was born.
Anyway, I digress. This weeks matchup, for the first time in a long time may actually favor the Browns. It's not that the Browns have a great team, but they are healthy and the Bengals are not. The Bengals have eight guys on the IR list.
People have discovered that Jason Campbell can play a little. Readers of this column know that the Village Elliot has always liked Campbell, and in particular has noted that Campbell led the Oakland Raiders to a winning record. Yes, the Raiders, who at that time still had their meddling owner, Al Davis, to ruin the rest of the team. It's hard to fault the quarterback for the way the Raiders or the Redskins (the team Campbell played for most of his career) played. Campell is considered to be over the hill by many fans, but at 31 he is not much older than Brandon Weeden, who turned 30 last month
Meanwhile, let's take a look at the Bengals. They have lost
Pro Bowler DT Geno Atkins, plus starters, S Taylor Mays, CB Leon Hall, and DE Robert Geathers. Also lost are RB Bernard Scott, and LB Sean Porter. For Sunday, DT Devon Still is out, G Keven Zeitler is Out, LB Ray Malaluga is Doubtful, S Chris Crocker is Doubtful. Let's not even worry about who is questionable. I count nine key players as out this week.
The Browns have lost Quentin Groves, a good backup linebacker, and long term are without QB Brian Hoyer, PR Travis Benjamin and backup running back Dion James. They are in much better shape physically than the battered Bengals.
The Browns O-Line has been playing much better. For the first several games they were giving up sacks at a phenomenal rate, which is part of the reason why they can not keep their quartbacks healthy. Weeden has been knocked out of a few games, and Brian Hoyer is out for the year. But the line has stabilized things a bit for Campbell. They still can not run the ball at all, with Willis McGahee struggling to average 3.0 yards per carry, one of the worst averages in the NFL. But unknown fullback Chris Orbonnaya has 28 catches out of the backfield, and has a 4.6 yard per carry average lifetime. Sometime they may figure out that he can play, and actually give him the ball. For now, the Browns prefer Willis McGahee's 2.6 yards per carry as they wait for him to return to his form from back in the leather helmet days.
The Bengals big threat on offense is all-everything wide receiver A. J. Green. On the other hand, the Browns have a very good cover corner in Joe Haden, and they may be able to slow down Green a little bit.
At the beginning of the year, I thought that the Bengals were going to be able to play some two-tight end sets with Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. However, when Jermaine Gresham missed a game last week, journeyman Alex Smith (a former Brown) got the start over Eifert.
The Bengals are favored by five points, and if they were healthy I would agree with that. But the fact of the matter is that they are not healthy, and for that reason the Browns should be clear favorites to win this game. I handicap this game an amazing nine points differently than the official spread: Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 20.