The Bengals loss to the Ravens yesterday tightens everything up in the AFC North, making the upcoming duel between Cleveland and Cincinnati that much more important.
The Ravens are now tied with the Browns and are back in the race, with both teams sitting a game and a half behind the Bengals. The Browns are rested coming off the Bye Week, and on a roll after beating the Ravens the week before.
The Bengals are looking at a two-game losing streak, and are trying to figure out what’s going wrong.
Being Browns fans, we know how well our team is playing and we feel the optimism spreading across NE Ohio. But how do the folks in Cincinnati feel about the Bengals’ downturn?
Lance McAllister is a sportscaster with Cincinnati’s ESPN Radio 1530. He’s been following the Bengals since 1997. He was gracious enough to share his thoughts with me by email and thinks the Bengals’ season is “teetering a bit.”
I think the Bengals dropped from a Super Bowl contender to a playoff team with growing questions with the Geno Atkins injury. The Bengals are one of the deepest teams in the league, that is clearly going to be tested with 9 defensive players on IR.
With the defense so banged up, Andy Dalton and the offense need to step up if Cincinnati is going to be successful, and that, McAlister says, “is a shaky proposition.”
In the last two games, Dalton has gradually grown worse. His completion percentage against Miami was 60.4%, and dropped to 47.1% against the Ravens. His QB rating was 55.5 vs. the Dolphins, and 52.3 when he played Baltimore a week later. He threw three interceptions in each game. McAlister sees the team rising and falling with Dalton.
When Andy Dalton is good, he’s really good. When Andy Dalton is off, he’s really off. They have all the weapons to be dangerous, with a stable of WR’s, 2 TE’s and a mix and match combo at RB. The OL has to give Andy time and let him get comfortable. I still think they are a 10-win team and AFC North champs. But the losses on defense, particularly up the middle, from DL Atkins to LB Rey Maualuga to CB Leon Hall are huge blows to making a deep playoff run.
While Cleveland only has four wins, there is a feeling of growing momentum surrounding the team. They are playing better than most expected, McAlister included.
The Browns have surprised me. My first reaction to the Trent Richardson deal was that they had punted the season. Well, somebody forgot to tell the players. You can see a confidence growing in their play.
McAlister sees Browns quarterback Jason Campbell as “a stabilizing/calming force” for the team, and believes the “swarming, aggressive defense keeps getting better and better.”
In the end, though, the story will be told at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday. McAlister sees a Bengals win:
I find it hard to believe the offense struggles for a 3rd straight week and being at home should be a big boost vs Cleveland. Bengals 20 Browns 13.
I want to thank Lance McAlister for taking the time to trade emails with me. He certainly didn’t have to do it, and I appreciate his courtesy. I have a lot of respect for him.
I have to disagree with his view, though. I think Cleveland comes into this game confident and healthy after beating the Ravens and the Bye Week. I think the Browns proved against Baltimore that their secondary receivers, Davone Bess and Greg Little, are capable of stepping up when defenses focus on Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
In addition, I think the Browns defense will harass Dalton all day, and sack him at least three times.
My prediction: Browns 21, Bengals 17.