Bengals vs. Browns Picks: Our 4 Best NFL Bets For Thursday Night Football
Bobby Ellis/Getty Images. Pictured: Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry
With both teams coming off season-opening losses, the Browns host the Bengals in an AFC North showdown on Thursday Night Football. So which squad has the edge?
Four of our analysts are aligned on one team, but are investing in different ways.
Bengals vs. Browns Picks
Under 49.5 Teaser
Stuckey: Browns -6
Based on their win total and early lines, it appears I’m much lower on the Bengals to start the season than the market — I just think it’s going to take time for Joe Burrow to really make an impact in his rookie season after no preseason and shortened offseason preparation.
It doesn’t help that he must operate behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.
Burrow was running for his life in the season opener against the Chargers and didn’t really have time to throw it downfield. Per Next Gen Stats, the first overall pick had an average of only 2.21 seconds to throw on his 36 attempts. Former first-round draft pick Jonah Williams struggled in his first NFL start on the left side while Bobby Hart got dominated all day on the right side.
Burrow could do some damage with four- and five-wide receiver sets as the Bengals have plenty of talent on the outside, they just can’t give the former LSU product enough time.
This major-work-in-progress unit should struggle once again against Myles Garrett and Co.
Meanwhile, the Browns got absolutely blasted in Baltimore. But with injuries throughout camp coupled with new coaches and schemes, taking on a powerhouse Ravens team had disaster written all over it before their Week 1 matchup even kicked off. Cleveland also didn’t help itself with three turnovers in addition to a missed field goal and extra point.
Everything went wrong.
However, I don’t think things are as bad as they seemed for the Browns. They’re also much better suited for a quick turnaround on a short week: Rookie quarterbacks starting on a Thursday night after a short turnaround in Weeks 1-8 have gone just 1-6 over the past 15 seasons with one touchdown to 10 interceptions. There are some busts on that list, but it also features Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson.
The Browns should have plenty of success on the ground all night and can get enough pressure on defense to force Burrow into costly mistakes. I’m buying low on the home favorite here in a game I make Cleveland better than a touchdown favorite in.
I bet the Browns at -5.5, but like them up to -7.
Mike Randle: Browns -6
I still believe in the Browns as a post-hype sleeper.
Their offensive line is much improved, ranking as the sixth-best heading into the season according to Pro Football Focus. And despite the 38-6 loss to the Ravens, the unit allowed only eight pressures on quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Cleveland did provide three total turnovers to Baltimore’s elite defense, but there should be no such concerns against Cincinnati, which ranked 30th in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA last season. The Bengals also managed only four total quarterback hits on Tyrod Taylor in Week 1 while the Chargers gained 155 yards on the ground, with running backs Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelly averaging more than 4.7 yards per carry.
Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon will take advantage of one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, which allowed three sacks and one interception at home last week.
Overall, this is a favorable matchup for Cleveland on both sides of the ball. I’m betting on a big bounceback from the Browns and would side with the home favorite up to 6.5 points.
Raheem Palmer: Over 43 (and a teaser)
On Monday night, I recommended adding Browns -6 as your second teaser leg to go along with Broncos + 9. If you followed that advice, you’re sitting in an excellent position after winning your first leg and knocking out the key numbers of 6 and 3 on your second, needing the Browns to win at a PK.
But if you didn’t follow my advice, it’s not too late to capitalize: Cleveland still makes a great leg. You could tease Browns -6 to PK along with one of the following two Stanford Wong teaser legs:
- Eagles +1.5 to +7.5 (knocking out the key numbers of 3, 6 and 7)
- Cardinals -6.5 to 0.5 (knocking out the key numbers of 3 and 6)
Nevertheless, this is an excellent spot for the Browns.
Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson should be licking their chops as rookie Joe Burrow makes his second career start on the road on a short week behind a struggling offensive line that was graded as the fourth-worst pass blocking unit in Week 1 by Pro Football Focus.
We can also expect the Browns’ offense to roll in this spot. The Chargers were down two starters on the offensive line in center Mike Pouncey and guard Trai Turner and still put up 362 total yards (155 rushing and 207 passing), 5.1 yards per play and had the second-highest intended air yards at 11.2. From a point total perspective, they underperformed by scoring only 16 points as they were 1-for-3 from the red zone and their kicker missed a field goal.
With Cincy missing defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels, Cleveland should be able to run the ball with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The attention given to the run game should pay dividends in Kevin Stefanski’s play-action offense and I expect a big bounce-back game from Baker Mayfield.
Given this information, you’re probably wondering why I’m teasing this game rather than laying the six points with the Browns: What gives me pause is their injury report, specifically on defense. They’ve ruled out cornerbacks Kevin Johnson (liver) and Greedy Williams (shoulder) as well as linebackers Mack Wilson (knee) and Jacob Phillips (knee). And although they have an elite defensive line, the secondary leaves a lot to be desired.
Lamar Jackson dominated this Cleveland defense, completing 20-of-25 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1. Burrow isn’t Jackson (yet), but with weapons like A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Tee Higgins, the Bengals should have their opportunities to capitalize on the Browns’ depleted secondary.
And while the Bengals offensive line is a problem, the lack of fans and authentic crowd noise should make it easier on their offense.
I see both teams getting into the 20s and thus I like the over at 43.5 points (or better).
This line took some under money earlier in the week to knock it off the key number of 44, which gives us a bit of value. The numbers 37, 41, 44, 47 and 51 are the five most common point totals, so if you’re looking to bet the over, you don’t want to play it at 44 or above.
Brandon Anderson: Browns PK/Under 49.5 Teaser
I’ve had this exact game circled on the calendar since the schedule came out, and not just because it should be a fun matchup of recent Heisman-winning No. 1 pick quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow.
This always looked like a value spot for the Browns, a team I still like to jump into the playoffs this season.
A lot of people may be afraid of Cleveland after a Week 1 drubbing by Baltimore, but the Ravens are the best team in football and they’re a pretty bad matchup for the Browns — they were actually very close to Baltimore in yards, first downs and time of possession, they just made a ton of mistakes.
The Bengals performed well enough in Week 1, but this was always going to be a difficult turnover with a rookie quarterback making his second start on just three days rest. I love Burrow, and he was great down the stretch in his pro debut, but it will be awfully tough to learn much or adjust for a whole new Week 2 opponent.
Still, it’s the Browns. Are they definitely six points better than the Bengals? I’m not so sure, but I do feel pretty good about them winning and don’t expect either offense to do much here, so I lean toward the Browns and the under.
The Browns are at a perfect tease spot as a six-point tease means they just have to win the game. It raises the game total to 49.5 — a pretty hefty number — so I lose a little value teasing instead of parlaying, but I don’t want to sweat the backdoor Burrow cover.