Neither of these teams has anything to play for, but neither has clicked into “evaluation mode” at any point this year either. Expect a standard approach from both sides.
The Matchup ::
- The 1-14 Bengals have six losses on the year of more than one possession, with three of those losses coming against the 49ers, Ravens, and Patriots
- The “Super Bowl bound,” 6-9 Browns have five losses of their own of more than one possession (though the 49ers, Ravens, and Patriots are on their list as well)
- The Bengals have faced the lowest opponent pass play rate in the NFL
- When these teams played in Week 14, the Browns ran only 54 plays, but 25 (46.3%) were designed run plays
- Only 15 carries went to Nick Chubb in that spot, while nine carries flowed to Kareem Hunt
- NFL rushing leader and yards-per-carry leader (among running backs averaging at least 10 carries per game) Nick Chubb has recent touch totals of 17 // 16 // 20 // 15
- Kareem Hunt has recent touch totals of 12 // 11 // 12 // 7
- On average, the Bengals are facing 29.7 running back touches per game
- Only three teams have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers than the Bengals have allowed
- Only two wide receivers have topped 103 yards against the Bengals :: Cooper Kupp’s 220-yard detonation of this team (on only seven receptions), and DeVante Parker’s 5-111-1 game last week on a whopping 15 targets
- Five pass catchers have topped 100 yards against the Browns this year, with three of those five getting there on four or fewer receptions — with the Browns’ tackling issues driving all of those lines
- Before flipping over to comeback mode last week, the Bengals had been one of the run-heaviest teams in the NFL over the last month and a half
- The Browns rank 28th in DVOA against the run and are facing the fifth highest opponent rush play rate in the league
- Joe Mixon has recent touch counts of 21 // 32 // 16 // 18 // 23 // 26 // 28 // 23
The Game ::
Before we dive into the last game of the season for the Browns and Bengals, we should point out that this is the last game of the season for the Browns and the Bengals — most specifically, the Bengals, who will have the first pick of the draft next year and are all but certain to take Joe Burrow with that pick, ending the Andy Dalton era. The Bengals are playing this game in front of their home fans, and for as much grief as Dalton gets from the national media, he has been Cincinnati’s guy for almost a decade, with four playoff appearances thrown in there (which may not sound like a lot to you, depending on what team you root for; but if you’re a fan of either of these two teams, Dalton has practically been the equivalent of the Chosen One). All that to say: if you want to play an angle here in which the Bengals lean on the pass — or at least try to get Dalton a going-away present of a couple touchdowns — you can certainly make a case there. And of course, all that is said because everything in this matchup tilts the Bengals toward the ground.
Up until the last month and a half, the Bengals had been the pass-heaviest team in the NFL — but even after throwing the ball on over 70% of their plays last week in comeback mode against the Dolphins, Cincy has now dropped to third in the league, as they have run the ball at a rate higher than the league average since after their Week 9 bye, when they began emphasizing Joe Mixon. The Bengals have also run the ball at a 40% rate at home on the season compared to only 30% on the road, while the Browns face the fifth highest opponent rush play rate in the league. Volume should work in favor of Mixon in this spot, who has touch counts since the bye of 32 // 16 // 18 // 23 // 26 // 28 // 23, while Cincy’s new mix of man/power blocking (to go with their “base” zone blocking scheme) has helped to spring Mixon free for 114+ rushing yards in three of these seven games, with 79+ in five.
The Browns (while hammering the “dunce” label much more violently than the Bengals have this year, and therefore carrying potential to try to “get Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham going” in a spot where it would make a lot more sense to lean on their most effective offensive option in Nick Chubb) should be expected to lean on the run as well, with the Bengals facing the highest opponent rush play rate in the league. Only four teams have allowed more running back rushing yards than the Bengals this season, and their 4.66 yards allowed per carry to the position is a boost to Chubb as he looks to close out his 92-yard lead on CMC for the rushing yardage title (a lead that would be even greater if the Browns actually fed Chubb the way they should). With only 11 targets over his last six games, Chubb is pretty officially a yardage-and-touchdown back at this point, but his chances of yardage are good in this spot, and touchdowns have a chance to follow.
Behind Chubb, Kareem Hunt should be expected to bounce right back up to the 10 to 12 touches he had been seeing per game before last week, while Landry and Beckham will operate as “bet on them if you think Kitchens forces the issue with the pass” options (or as guys you can bet on doing a lot with a little) — with each of these guys underpriced for theoretical ceiling, but still a bit overpriced for “likeliest range” given A) what each guy has done this year and B) how little upside the Bengals have allowed to wide receivers.
JM’s Interpretation ::
If betting on the Bengals’ passing attack, Tyler Boyd // John Ross (71/90 snaps last week) // Alex Erickson will be the pieces the Bengals will most heavily focus on against a Browns team that has allowed only five pass catchers to top 81 yards against them this year. Because of the Browns’ issues with tackling, Ross’ speed would be an interesting bet to make if going here (and if I end up with heavy-ish Mixon exposure, that’s likely where I will grab most of my hedge exposure myself). Mixon would be more interesting if he were a bit cheaper, but he sets up well in this spot.
Chubb would also be more interesting if he were a bit cheaper, but he’s explosive enough (and the matchup is solid enough) that I may not mind some “ignore the low floor to target his ceiling” bets in tourneys.
Because of mistaken perceptions around what a matchup against the Bengals has meant for wide receivers this year (and the name value on Landry/Beckham), it won’t surprise me if the Browns’ receivers see a small spike in ownership this week with their prices in free-fall; but of course, a viable case can be made for that bet as well, as a “bet on Kitchens being an idiot and forcing the issue with these two” play.
Finally, you can’t say a shootout is “likely” here, given the way these two offenses have looked; but each defense has enough holes that building around a high-scoring scenario in tourneys will open you to some interesting paths to overlooked upside this week.