In a special Halloween edition of Monday Night Football, we’ll see a matchup between the two teams that appear most appropriately dressed for the occasion: the orange-clad Bengals and Browns.
After getting off to a shaky 0-2 start, Cincinnati has won four of its last five games, with Joe Burrow and the offense appearing to have found their stride. This culminated in a 35-17 offensive explosion versus the Falcons last weekend, which saw the Bengals record over 500 yards of total offense, most of that through the air.
In contrast, the Browns have fallen off after starting 2-1, losing their last four games in a row. And the only two wins they did have were over the Panthers and Steelers, both of whom are now 2-6.
But despite the initial appearance, this matchup could end up being closer than it looks on the surface. The three Bengals losses have been by a total of eight points, and the Browns fell by less than a field goal in four of their five losses. In addition, over the last few seasons Cleveland has dominated its in-state rival, winning seven of the last eight games and sweeping the series in 2020 and 2021. Burrow has never beaten the Browns, going 0-3, and will be looking to reverse that trend under the prime-time lights.
Last week’s Monday Night Football showcase featured a resounding upset by the Bears over the Patriots. Will this week follow suit with a Browns victory, or will the Bengals take home the W?
Here are four things to watch for when the Bengals visit the Browns:
- Will the Bengals look the same without Chase? The Bengals had a breakthrough performance in last week’s rout of the Falcons, putting up 537 total yards, 459 coming from the pass game. Ja’Marr Chase accounted for 130 yards and two TDs in the win, and leads the team with 605 receiving yards on the season, but the wideout will not be playing Monday. It was revealed this week that he’s dealing with a hip injury that is expected keep him out for multiple weeks. Without Chase, Cincinnati’s other pass-catchers will have to make up the production, which in theory shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd were hardly absent in last week’s winning effort, contributing 93 and 155 receiving yards, respectively. Each has been a regular contributor in the Bengals’ offense this season has shown he can handle the duty of being a No. 1 receiver. Each of them has recorded 1,000+ receiving yards in a season at least once, and both are on pace to hit that benchmark again this year -- both have 455 yards so far this season. The loss of Chase definitely stings, but if Boyd and Higgins can lead the Bengals' receivers as they're expected to, there shouldn’t be too much drop-off in production this week.
- Will Chubb continue to carry the Browns offense? The Browns have relied on Nick Chubb this season, and he’s delivered with a league-leading 740 rushing yards and eight touchdowns through seven weeks. Chubb headlines the third-best rushing offense in the NFL, a group which the Browns have needed to be strong with the passing game only so-so under backup QB Jacoby Brissett (22nd in the league). And with Cleveland’s No. 2 tight end David Njoku (ankle) ruled out this week, it’s possible the Browns will have to rely on the run to move the ball even more. Luckily, Chubb has performed well against Cincinnati in his career, as he’s recorded four games with at least 100 rushing yards versus the divisional rival. Chubb’s ability to lead drives will be essential in order to compete against the Bengals.
- Will Mixon return to form versus the Browns? While Cleveland’s main RB has led them this season, Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon has not found the same level of success. Despite recording 1,205 rushing yards last season, Mixon has struggled this season, recording only 405 yards so far and failing to break 100 in any game. These low numbers have led to Cincy holding the 28th-ranked rushing offense and relying more on the passing game to score points. While that hasn’t been too much of a problem recently as Burrow and his receivers have been up to the task, it’d still be good to see the Joe Mixon of seasons past emerge sooner rather than later. Will this be the week it happens? He’s had big games against Cleveland before, including a pair of 2019 games with 146 and 162 yards. And the Browns defense has ranked in the bottom 10 against the rush this season (949 yards allowed). Can this be the breakthrough week for Mixon, or will we see more of the same for the Bengals running back in another middling performance?
- Can the Cleveland DEs get to Burrow? Both Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett are set to play on Monday, and will be looking to get after Burrow early and often to limit his ability to make plays. Both defensive ends have missed time already with injuries, but with Clowney and Garrett healthy this week, it’ll be a true test for the Bengals’ offensive line. The Cincinnati O-line was one of the team’s biggest issues in its Super Bowl run last year. To start the season it appeared things hadn’t improved much -- they gave up 13 sacks over the first two games -- but there’s been a relative improvement since then with 12 sacks surrendered in the last five games. With some of the major players in the Browns’ secondary out for Week 8, including cornerback Denzel Ward, getting into the backfield will be crucial if they want to limit Burrow’s dangerous passing potential. Could the healthy status of this powerful duo be the game-changer as Cleveland seeks to pull off the upset?