|By Dave Biddle|
The Cincinnati Bengals (2-4) are 10.5-point favorites over the visiting Cleveland Browns (0-6) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET; CBS). However, given the history of this rivalry – and the fact that Browns head coach Hue Jackson knows the Bengals so well – don’t be surprised if this one is closer than many expect.
The Bengals are coming off a 35-17 loss at New England (I won’t even be a jerk and mention that I predicted 34-17 Patriots in this space, whoops), while the Browns were edged 28-26 by the Tennessee Titans last week.
From the Bengals’ point of view, here are the big developments in recent days:
** Tight end Tyler Eifert is expected to make his season debut for the Bengals against the Browns. Eifert missed the first six games of the season due to offseason ankle injury, and a back injury suffered three weeks ago in practice (he likely would have just missed four games if not for the back ailment). We’ll see how effective the Pro Bowler will be, but just the fact that he’s finally been medically cleared is good news for the Bengals. They’ve been struggling in the red zone this season and Eifert was one of the best red zone targets in the NFL last season when he collected 13 touchdowns.
** Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined $75,000 for stepping on Patriots’ running back LaGarrette Blount last week. Burfict was suspended for the first three games of this season due to his dirty play to end last season. Many expected he would be suspended after the Blount incident, but the NFL said after reviewing the play that it was not clear that Burfict actually stepped on Blount. Which begs a question: If the NFL couldn’t tell whether Burfict did anything wrong, why was he fined? Either he intentionally stomped on a player and should be suspended, or he did nothing wrong and shouldn’t be fined. The NFL trying to find some middle ground here was strange to say the least. Course, Burfict has such a bad reputation that it probably boiled down to something like this: “We can’t tell for sure that you did it, but we think you did. And you don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.”
** Jackson being back in Cincinnati, albeit on the opposite sideline, will be a reminder to Bengals’ fans what a good offensive coordinator he was for the Bengals. I’m still not sure Jackson will be a good NFL head coach, but there’s no doubt he was a good OC. His replacement in Cincinnati, Ken Zampese, has left a lot to be desired through his first six games. Zampese was the Bengals’ quarterbacks coach for the first 13 years of the Marvin Lewis era, and was promoted after Jackson’s departure to Cleveland. In Zampese’s defense, Jackson had better personnel to work with in Cincinnati compared to the current roster (no Marvin Jones or Mo Sanu, for instance) but Zampese needs to be much better than he has been thus far. There is very little innovation in the Bengals’ offense.
** Prediction: Bengals 24, Browns 16.