By the time the kids dressed as Joe Burrow return from their Halloween routes scattered across southwest Ohio Monday night, they hope to settle in (8:15-Cincinnati's Channel 9 and ESPN) and watch their guy bury the ghosts up north against the Browns.
As Burrow tries to win his first "Battle of Ohio," in his fourth try, the Bengals.com Media Roundtable gives him the edge despite the absence of running mate Ja'Marr Chase. They believe the Batman Burrow has enough Robins for the Bengals' first Halloween win since 1976, when they took out these Browns at Riverfront Stadium on Ken Anderson's 69-yard touchdown pass to notorious Cleveland killer Isaac Curtis.
The Athletic's Jay Morrison and Mike Petraglia of CLNS Media grew up watching those Bengals and they're taking this group Monday because they see the defense coming up just big enough against Browns running back Nick Chubb.
The Cleveland contingent of long-time Browns reporters Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com and Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland on WKNR 850 is split. Cabot thinks the Browns pass rush gets the upper hand while Grossi, an unabashed Burrow fan, sees him escaping with his first win over the Browns.
Let's go around The Table. As always, ladies and visitors first.
Once Ja'Marr Chase was ruled out of the game, I think that pushed me over the top thinking the Browns would win this game based on some of the things Browns defensive end Myles Garrett said Saturday. They just kind of match up well against the Bengals offensive line. Myles and the other defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, can get Joe Burrow off his mark and try to get him a little flustered, especially without his No. 1 receiver out there.
Even without cornerback Denzel Ward, the Browns still have some good guys in the back end. At home, in a game they really need to have to stay afloat and give themselves a chance, I don't know if I see the Browns losing five straight.
THE EDGE: The difference in the game is Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney getting after Joe Burrow. BROWNS, 29-27
The Browns are barely on life support and they're not going be at full strength. No Denzel Ward. Their big Pro Bowl guard Wyatt Teller is out. So is one of their leading receivers in tight end David Njoku. I think they had an emotional tight loss against Baltimore and they don't have many chances to stay relevant this season. This might be it. I don't know if that brings out the best in them or the worst in them.
The Browns gain a little more with the trade-off of Chase for Ward because they have depth at cornerback and have played without Denzel before. That helps the Browns, but their problems are in every phase of their team and coaching. While that injury helps that defense, it doesn't solve their other problems.
I look forward to watching and reporting on Joe Burrow. Maybe when the Browns get Deshaun Watson back on the field there'll be a greater quarterback rivalry. It's hard to get up for a Joe Burrow-Jacoby Brissett game. But I love watching Burrow. I think you can make a case he's the best quarterback in the NFL. His record against Patrick Mahomes last year says a lot to me.
THE EDGE: I struggle calling this game. Like last week against Baltimore, I think they'll play their best against Cincinnati. I just think Cincinnati is going to pull away and end all our misery. BENGALS, 27-17
I don't think Jamarr's absence changes much the way the game will play out. It will be a lower scoring game. I still think the Bengals break the skids. Four-game losing streak to the Browns, 23 of 24 on the road in primetime. Sometimes a loss like this can galvanize a locker room. Everybody is telling them they're done and they go up there with a little bit more of a chip on their shoulder. Depending on how Cleveland plays, if they do double Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, it could be a big Joe Mixon game, a big Hayden Hurst game. I don't think this offense is going to fall apart because Ja'Marr is out.
Brissett has a tendency to make mistakes and those days are gone where the Bengals defense couldn't buy a turnover. They will capitalize now. I think the biggest concern is Browns running back Nick Chubb. The Bengals have done well with nose tackle D.J. Reader out, but Chubb has been a monster against them if you look at his yards per carry and his total yards. Every time they play he's a problem. It's going to come down to, kind of like last week. If they can jump on the Browns early like they did the Falcons and take away the impact of play-action.
THE EDGE: Where they'll miss Ja'Marr the most is in the red zone, so I think they'll settle for some Evan McPherson field goals down there. But the Bengals defense is too good to let the Browns put up a lot of points. BENGALS, 23-17.
It's going to be a physical battle for the Bengals. They have to find a way to stop or slow down Nick Chubb. He can't have big, big chunk yards. They know he's going to get the ball and they also have to contain the other running back, Kareem Hunt, and put the game in the hands of Jacoby Brissett. Brissett is very effective, efficient, but he's not going to make the big plays like their running tandem can. I think the Bengals find a way to contain that.
The Browns are going to give him a lot of efficiency passes, like what they did against the Ravens, where he was very efficient underneath on 22 of 27. But don't figure Jacody Brissett beating you deep. Make the Browns beat you the length of the field.
THE EDGE: Even without Ja'Marr, the Bengals have the advantage. I think the Browns will get a couple of big plays from Chubb, but I think the Bengals will be able to contain their passing game. People talk about no Ja'Marr. But the Browns don't have their big receiver in David Njoku and that's a big weapon for them not to have. BENGALS, 28-20.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For all the calculus crunched following Burrow's heroics last week in sifting the Falcons for 481 yards, Monday's primetime spectacle comes down to the grimy job of stopping Browns running back Nick Chubb.
Like Corey Dillon, Rudi Johnson and Cedric Benson once controlled this rivalry on the ground for the Bengals, Chubb's 5.5-yard per gashes and four 100-yard games against Cincinnati have dominated a series where the Browns have won six of the last seven games. The Bengals know they can't have plays like Chubb's 70-yarder up the middle for the touchdown that headlined last year's 41-16 loss to the Browns at Paycor Stadium.
While they wait for Deshaun Watson, the run is how the Browns live and staring at their fifth straight and virtual elimination from the playoffs, it is going to be Chubb left and right and Kareem Hunt doing the rest. The Browns have run 47.3 percent of the time this season, the eighth highest rate in the NFL.
Jacoby Brissett is capable but a caretaker. He has the next-to-fewest touchdown passes in the league with six in seven starts and he hasn't thrown for two in a game along with 250 yards. The Browns have scored 20 points or fewer three times in their four-game losing streak and face a Bengals defense that hasn't allowed more than 20 points in five of their last six games
Now take a look at Burrow and his last two games. In the last 72 years, only he and Joe Montana have thrown three-plus touchdowns, rushed for one and have no interceptions in consecutive games and Burrow is the only player with 300 or more yards with three or more touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown in back-to-back games.
That would seem to be the ultimate trick to lose this matchup. But the Browns do have the potential antidote in two vet edge rushers in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Garrett, one of the top two sakers in the 2020s and who has six this season, is going to go against both Bengals tackles. Left tackle Jonah Williams is playing the best ball of his five seasons and right tackle La'el Collins is starting to play the way the Bengals envisioned when they signed him back in March. Burrow has been sacked ten times in the last four games after 13 in the first two weeks.
And that's allowed Burrow to go off since the third game of the season, when he is in the top three with a 71.3 completion percentage, 312 yards per game, 12 touchdowns, a pick and a 117.2 passer rating.
It's tough not having Ja'Marr Chase. But Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins have also had 100-yard games with a touchdown in Bengals wins. Plus, Chase (2), Boyd (2) and Higgins (1) have combined for five TDs of 40 yards and no other team has at least three players one or more 40-yard TDs. So Boyd and Higgins are more than capable of putting up a big number.
Keep an eye on the young SEC kickers. Bengals sophomore Evan McPherson of Florida is 4-for-4 from 50 with the club-record 59 on Opening Day. That same day Browns rookie Cade York, of LSU, two of four from 50 this season, hit a winning 58-yarder. That's the second longest kick in Browns history. Steve Cox, of course, had a 60-yarder 38 years ago against the Bengals.