Before the season started, the Cleveland Browns were projected to win the AFC North and then at least get back to the AFC Divisional round maybe even the AFC Championship. Some people were picking the Browns to go 13-4, 12-5, and other records in that neighborhood.
Now, they sit at 4-4 going into Round 1 of “The Battle of Ohio” down in Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium aka “The Jungle”.
Going into this game, Cincinnati leads the all-time series 51-44. However, Cleveland swept the series in both 2018 and 2020. In the two meetings last season, the Browns beat the Bengals by a combined eight points.
In Week 2, Cleveland beat Cincinnati 35-30 on TNF in the Browns home opener. In Week 7, the Browns beat the Bengals in “The Jungle” 37-34. Over the past three seasons, the Browns are 5-1 against the Bengals. However, is any of this history going to affect Sunday’s game? No, it’s not going to have any effect whatsoever.
More likely than not, the AFC North is going to send three teams to the playoffs just like last year. Right now, those three teams are the Baltimore Ravens (5-2, third in the AFC), the Bengals (5-3, fifth in the AFC), and the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3, sixth in the AFC). Meanwhile, the Browns are ninth in the AFC. So if the season ended today, they would miss the playoffs one season after going 11-5 and advancing to the AFC Divisional round.
That’s why Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals is a turning point in the season for the Cleveland Browns. A victory means they move to 5-4 and most likely move up in both the division standings and the AFC standings. Plus the Browns would be a game over .500. That could be huge considering the fact that next week’s game is against the upstart New England Patriots in Foxboro. The Browns may have to fight it out with the Patriots for a wildcard spot down the line.
On the flip side, a loss hurts the Browns in a few ways. First, it keeps them in the basement when it comes to the division. Second, it pushes them farther down the AFC playoff ladder. Third, they would fall to a game under .500.
As stated earlier, this team came into the season with high expectations given what they did last season. But if they lose in Week 9 on the road against their in-state rivals, it’s highly probable that they would fail to meet those expectations. However, it wouldn’t be the first time they failed to meet expectations.
Remember the 2019 season? The Browns went out and made all types of acquisitions and they hired Freddie Kitchens as their head coach. As a result, they were featured in four primetime games. They went 2-2 in those four primetime games.
They went 0-4 against the NFC West and 3-1 against the AFC East. They went 3-3 against their division rivals. Finally, they went 0-2 against the Tennessee Titans (AFC South) and Denver Broncos (AFC West), the two teams who finished in third place in their respective divisions. If you add all of these numbers together, the result is a 6-10 season. In other words, failure to meet expectations.
Although this year’s squad is facing a completely different schedule than what the 2019 team had to face, the 2021 Browns are hanging on the edge of going the same way. That’s why this Sunday’s game against the Bengals is not only a must-win, but it’s also the turning point game in the season.