This wasn’t anticipated to be a premier matchup heading into the season, but the Bengals have been much more competitive than most anticipated.
Cincinnati enters the contest with a 5-3 record, but could easily have had more victories on their ledger.
Each of their three defeats have come by exactly three points, to the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and the New York Jets.
Meanwhile, the Browns have had a pretty topsy turvy season so far.
Certain weeks, they look like offensive juggernauts.
In other games, they’ve struggled to put points on the board consistently.
Cleveland only has four losses, and with an extra game and extra playoff spot, would not totally be out of the mix with a loss to Cincinnati.
With that said, this Ohio rivalry game would be a tough one to recover from for Cleveland if it didn’t go their way.
🗣 IT'S TIME. We'll debut a new uniform combo for the Battle of Ohio. ⚫ pic.twitter.com/jnQEBknIOn
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) November 5, 2021
Cleveland’s Health Situation
The Browns have been completed decimated by injuries in 2021.
Hunt is still expected to be on the shelf for several more weeks, and Mayfield’s left shoulder injury appears like it will need surgery.
#Browns QB Baker Mayfield is expected to need surgery on his torn labrum following the season, sources say, the result of the hits he’s taken on his non-throwing shoulder. The belief is he can deal with it through the season, but incurring more damage would make it challenging.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 21, 2021
There’s a world in which the Browns lose this game, fall under .500, and Mayfield’s threshold for playing with the banged up shoulder becomes harder to manage.
It doesn’t feel like the Browns are going to be completely healthy at any point in 2021, so each time they have an opportunity to knock off a division foe with most of their guys on the field, they have to take advantage.
If that chance falls by the wayside, their playoff dreams could come crashing to an end as early as this week.
New Kids On The AFC Block
Last year, it was Cleveland who was the surprise team in the AFC, and in the AFC North more specifically.
They were the fun, up and coming team who made a Cinderella run to the AFC Divisional playoff round.
For the first time in forever, it seemed like the Browns had what it took to overcome perennially challenging stalwarts in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.
Now, with the ascension of the Bengals, the Browns might be wiped off the face of relevancy in AFC, just as quickly as they ascended to it.
There’s no quantifiable way to measure how much of a mental toll that can have on a franchise, but it would be a depressing blow for Cleveland.
It seemed like a given that Pittsburgh and Baltimore would always be in the mix due to the excellent infrastructures they have.
But if the Bengals win on Sunday and continue to prove that they’re for real, it might leave the Browns in a place they’ve been all too familiar with over the years: entrenched in last.