Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 9-7 ATS) at Cleveland Browns (7-9, 7-9), 1 p.m.
Brolley’s Bengals Stats and Trends
The young Bengals clinched the AFC North title with their upset victory over the Chiefs in Week 17, which was their first division title since 2015. The Bengals have an outside shot at claiming the top seed in the AFC but they’ll need both the Chiefs (@Den) and the Titans (@Hou) to both lose as double-digit road favorites. The Chiefs happen to play on Saturday evening and the outcome of their game with the Broncos could dictate if the Bengals play or rest their starters. The Bengals are most likely looking at the #3 or #4 seed in the postseason, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they rest their starters if the Chiefs win on Saturday, especially after Joe Burrow left the field for their final two offensive snaps with an injury scare. It’s also notable that Zac Taylor comes from Sean McVay’s coaching tree, and McVay has been one of the more aggressive coaches when it comes to resting his starters when there’s little to gain in regular season games.
The Bengals are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games.
Cincinnati is 5-1 ATS in its last six road games.
The Bengals are 7-3 toward overs in the last 10 games.
Ja’Marr Chase was this year’s ultimate league winner in the fantasy finals thanks to his team-record 11/266/3 receiving on 12 targets for 55.6 FP against the Chiefs in Week 17. He also passed his LSU teammate Justin Jefferson for the most receiving yards in a season by a rookie in the Super Bowl Era with 1429 yards. Chase, Burrow, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd are likely to watch all or most of this contest from the sidelines. Brandon Allen will be throwing to the likes of Mike Thomas, Stanley Morgan, and potentially Trent Taylor, who is currently on the practice squad.
Joe Mixon has been nursing an ankle injury for much of the second half of the season, and he’ll get a chance to rest this week as he landed on the COVID list. They may also take this opportunity to rest Samaje Perine, as well. Trayveon Williams and Chris Evans would be the next guys up if Perine joins Mixon on the sidelines this week.
Brolley’s Browns Stats and Trends
The Browns beat the Bengals 41-16 as two-point road favorites in a game totaled at 47.5 points back in early November.
Cleveland is 2-5 ATS in its last seven games.
The Browns are 5-1 toward unders in their last six games.
With the Browns out of playoff contention, Nick Chubb saw a season-low 42% snap share in Week 17 even with Kareem Hunt (ankle) out of the lineup. He picked up a rib injury in the game and he finished with 12/58 rushing while D’Ernest Johnson posted 6/14 scrimmage on a backfield-best 55% snap share. Chubb ripped the Bengals for 14/137/2 rushing back in Week 9, but Cleveland could be looking to limit Chubb and Hunt’s exposure this week in a meaningless game against Cincinnati.
Baker Mayfield is a broken quarterback heading into the final year of his contract. He completed just 16/38 passes (42.1%) for 185 yards (4.9 YPA), two TDs, and two INTs while absorbing nine sacks against the Steelers. Mayfield was coming off a four-INT performance against the Packers on Christmas Day, and the Browns will mercifully end his season early with surgery needed on his injured left labrum. Case Keenum completed 21/33 passes for 199 yards and one TD in his lone start this season against the Broncos back in Week 7.
Jarvis Landry matched a season-high with 10 targets in Week 17, but he turned those looks into just 4/43 receiving. He’s finished with fewer than double-digit FP in six of his 11 games this season, including when he posted 3/11 receiving on five targets against the Bengals in Week 9. He managed 5/37 receiving on eight targets in Keenum’s lone start this season.
Donovan Peoples-Jones’ development this season has been one of the few bright spots for Cleveland’s offense this season. He scored on a 60-yard pass against the Bengals back in Week 9, and he’s seen 5+ targets in eight of his last nine games.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 29.3 (17th)
Plays per game: 65.0 (12th)
Pass: 60.1% (20th) | Run: 39.9% (13th)
Pace: 25.3 (3rd)
Plays per game: 61.3 (21st)
Pass: 62.9% (7th) | Run: 37.1% (26th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
The Bengals are wisely resting their starters as Joe Burrow and a lot of their key guys won’t play. As a result, this spread has shifted from Bengals -3 on Monday to Browns -6 as of Thursday evening. The Browns will be going to Case Keenum this week and should just run the ball a ton as big home favorites. We could see a big dose of D’Ernest Johnson here with both Nick Chubb (ribs/chest) and Kareem Hunt (ankle) beat up.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
We’re currently looking at a mix of rain, snow, consistent 18 MPH winds, and 41 MPH gusts on Sunday afternoon inside FirstEnergy Stadium. I devoted more hours than I care to admit last season digging into the historical weather data. I am not a meteorologist. If you have the desire to take a deep dive into the impact of weather on player performance, the information is readily available. If you want the CliffsNotes version, passing games are adversely impacted by winds of 15-or-more MPH. As you likely noticed, those 41 MPH gusts are going to be a problem.
Prior to learning about the weather forecast, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase were selected to be headlined as the Matchups to Target. Then the news dropped that Burrow would rest his sore knee, and that Joe Mixon, Vonn Bell, Trey Hendrickson, Quinton Spain, Trey Hopkins, and Akeem Davis-Gaither were each placed on the Bengals’ COVID list on Wednesday.
On the other sideline, Nick Chubb’s rib and chest injuries do not invoke confidence for this week. Especially since Cleveland signed Dexter Williams from the Dolphins’ practice squad, promoted Artavis Pierce from their own practice squad, and D'Ernest Johnson landed on the COVID list. And don’t expect to see Kareem Hunt on the field for the first time since Week 14, either.
Did I mention that Baker Mayfield may have played his last down with the Browns? He was placed on IR with surgery set for the 19th on the off-shoulder labrum ailment he’s been using as an excuse to explain away his poor play all season. As you might have noticed, the insanity we will all need to circumvent in Week 18 is perfectly embodied in this matchup: poor weather + sudden COVID deactivations + sore boo-boo inactives + featured practice squaders. Settle down next to a warm fire with a collection of NCAA team programs from the last five seasons to familiarize yourself with half of the players set to be featured on Sunday with more than enough volume to matter.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
The Bengals have a miniscule chance at the AFC’s #1 seed… but they’re likely not going to even try to get it.
Joe Burrow says he does not plan to play Sunday. It is not because of his knee.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) January 5, 2022
Knee is "sore but not bad, I could play if I needed to."
Resting for playoffs.
Brandon Allen will start for the Bengals, and he might be throwing to Ja’Marr Chase, who needs 45 yards to break the all-time rookie receiving record. Still, that likely pales for the Bengals as opposed to being fully healthy for the playoffs.
Zac Taylor on if Ja'Marr Chase will play Sunday: "Potentially."— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) January 5, 2022
The Browns have shut down QB Baker Mayfield (shoulder), and they will have to answer many questions about their future at the position this off-season. If Case Keenum plays well in relief of Mayfield, those questions will only be louder.
#Browns Baker Mayfield must resolve his differences with Kevin Stefanski soon in case they need to co-exist next season; Also, some names that will be on the radar if they don't https://t.co/waNKPGtnJV— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) January 6, 2022
Clickbait. You and many other Cleveland local media continue to be drama stirring reporters with no sources or facts. Don’t put words in my mouth so you can put food on your table. I’m not your puppet. https://t.co/MfHnqWk65s— Baker Mayfield (@bakermayfield) January 6, 2022
#Browns coach Kevin Stefanski on whether RB Kareem Hunt (ankle) is lobbying to play Sunday: We'll see how this week goes. Today is more of a walk through.— Nate Ulrich (@ByNateUlrich) January 5, 2022
Should they play, both Hunt and Chubb should have plenty of room to run against a Bengal defense that’s not playing for much. But the Browns aren’t playing for anything either, and on top of Chubb and Hunt being dinged… D’Ernest Johnson is on the COVID list. Jeepers.