November football has a captivating rendezvous this evening as the Cincinnati Bengals face off against their longstanding division adversaries, the Cleveland Browns, located just four hours to the North.
Although it’s perpetually a fierce contest between these two squads and their devoted followers, this year’s edition carries extra weight due to both teams’ fans hesitating to embrace their respective franchises wholeheartedly.
This reluctance stems from enduring decades of futility and heartbreaking losses. However, a Thursday night victory under the prime-time spotlight will empower these loyal supporters to unequivocally pledge their allegiance to their respective teams, ushering in the exciting journey toward the playoffs!
At the heart of this showdown, we find two quarterbacks who continue to grapple with winning over their respective fan bases.
Andy Dalton, orchestrating the Bengals’ offense in his fourth year, has steered the team to a leading 5-2-1 record in the AFC North.
His career-best completion rate of 64.9% and responsible ball management, with just 6 interceptions (on pace for 12), are commendable achievements, particularly considering he’s achieved this without the explosive weapons initially expected.
Marvin Jones, slated as the #2 wide receiver, has been absent the entire season, residing on injured reserve due to a foot ailment.
Tyler Eifert, around whom the Bengals built their passing game, is also on injured reserve, nursing an elbow injury. Star receiver AJ Green has missed three games due to a toe injury, and stud running back Giovani Bernard has experienced time on the sidelines.
Nevertheless, Dalton seems unable to garner more than a lukewarm reception from Cincinnati fans.
Similarly, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer finds himself in a parallel situation, struggling to win the affections of Cleveland’s faithful.
Just last week, Hoyer orchestrated an impressive performance by throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers, including a crucial late touchdown for the victory.
This led the Browns, who have endured seven years of November obscurity, to their fifth win, marking their first noteworthy November triumph in quite some time.
Nonetheless, Hoyer found himself occasionally on the receiving end of boos from the discerning Cleveland fans.
In the face of these perplexing receptions, one can’t help but wonder, “What more must these quarterbacks do?”
However, a strong showing, and more importantly, a victory by either Dalton or Hoyer, will provide the hesitant fan bases with the assurance they need to invest in their respective teams wholeheartedly.
Now, let’s delve into some of the pivotal matchups awaiting us in this Thursday night clash:
Browns C Nick McDonald Vs. Bengals DT Geno Atkins
The Browns’ offensive line suffered a significant blow two weeks ago when All-Pro Center Alex Mack sustained a season-ending broken leg.
Stepping into his role was Nick McDonald, a player who didn’t even belong to an NFL team in 2013. Since then, McDonald has made his first two career starts.
While he has displayed glimpses of potential, he has also experienced challenging moments, including an infamous sack surrendered to Gerald McCoy that became an internet sensation.
On the flip side, this development bodes well for Bengals’ defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who is now one year removed from his ACL injury.
Prior to his ACL tear last year, Geno Atkins was arguably one of the most explosively dynamic interior defensive linemen in the NFL, second only to JJ Watt. Atkins endured a slow recovery from his ACL injury but has steadily regained his strength week by week.
In the previous game against the Jaguars, you could witness the resurgence of the disruptive force he once was. Expect to see a rejuvenated and self-assured Geno Atkins striving to make his presence felt against McDonald.
However, if McDonald can continue his progression and invigorate the stagnant Browns’ running game, it could pose problems for a Bengals’ front seven that has struggled for the majority of the season.
Bengals Perimeter WRs vs the Browns CBs
The Browns’ cornerbacks had a bit of a vulnerability exposed last week when facing the tall wide receivers of the Buccaneers on the outside.
This development works to the advantage of the Bengals, particularly with their 6’4″ All-Pro AJ Green and the 6’2″ Mohamed Sanu, who has arguably been their best wide receiver this season.
Anticipate the Bengals employing a similar approach as the Buccaneers, allowing their wide receivers to exploit their height advantage by high-pointing the ball.
It’s worth noting that while the Browns’ secondary has had its struggles, they have demonstrated great opportunism in the past three weeks, forcing a total of 8 turnovers.
Nonetheless, the most intriguing matchup of the game revolves around Browns’ All-Pro Cornerback Joe Haden and Bengals’ wide receiver AJ Green.
Over the past couple of years, Haden has proven to be Green’s Achilles’ heel. The typically dominant Green has faced relentless harassment and been rendered largely ineffective by Haden.
This is a matchup of paramount importance for Green on Thursday if he aspires to be mentioned in the same breath as elite wide receivers like Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant.
Hoyer vs Dalton
Due to the short week and the notable injuries on both sides of the ball for both teams, it’s highly probable that we’ll witness a hard-fought and unpolished victory for one of them.
The quarterback who manages to make the fewest mistakes will undoubtedly provide his team with the best chance of success.
Neither Hoyer nor Dalton belongs to the ranks of superstar top-5 NFL quarterbacks, so their success stories this season have hinged on minimizing errors rather than the unrealistic expectation of becoming the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Both have excelled in limiting their mistakes this season, with Hoyer having a mere 4 interceptions and Dalton, as previously mentioned, with 6 interceptions, placing both of them around the middle or lower end of the league in this category.
Sustaining this trend will be pivotal for their prospects on Thursday night.
Furthermore, both quarterbacks have demonstrated their ability to lead their teams to late-game victories.
Just last week, Hoyer orchestrated a crucial 34-yard touchdown with 8:59 remaining to secure the win, while Dalton, two weeks ago, engineered a 10-play, 80-yard drive in under 4 minutes, culminating with a decisive fourth-down quarterback sneak for a touchdown.
The quarterback who remains composed minimizes errors, and showcases clutch performances in the fourth quarter will ultimately emerge triumphant.
The outcome of this Thursday Night Football clash carries significant implications for both the Bengals and the Browns.
Should the Bengals emerge victorious, they will maintain their position at the helm of the AFC North and achieve a pristine 3-0 record within the division, granting them a substantial advantage as they approach the critical final stretch of the season.
On the other hand, a Browns win would propel them up the standings by two spots, placing them in a tie for first with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The magnitude of these stakes underscores the importance of this midweek showdown.
Above all, a win in this game will infuse the respective fan bases with the belief and fervor they need to rally behind their teams as they embark on the quest for a playoff berth.