The Cincinnati Bengals face a must-win game during the Week 8 “Monday Night Football” showdown with the Cleveland Browns.
Those inside the Bengals aren’t shying away from the fact much about their season is on the line against the Browns. Lose, and it’s 0-3 in the AFC North before the bye week.
But to keep a two-game streak going and right the ship in the division the Bengals will have to put up numbers without star wideout Ja’Marr Chase, who has avoided injured reserve but is out an unknown amount of time with a hip injury.
A major shame, considering the offense was just getting in gear and Chase leads the team in receiving. Over the last two weeks, he’d recorded 262 yards and four touchdowns.
There’s no replacing Chase, a top-five player at his position. But Bengals wideouts move fluidly through all the wideout spots within the system, so there’s some hope Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd will still be enough of a threat to keep things moving.
It’s a critical component to a Bengals win considering the defense will still miss elite nose tackle DJ Reader against top-five running back Nick Chubb (740 yards, eight touchdowns on a 5.9 per-carry average). That’s in spite of Jacoby Brissett starting under center and throwing just six touchdowns and five interceptions over seven starts.
Of course, all chatter about the Bengals needing this win aside, the Browns are 2-5 and have lost four in a row. After the last loss, players were heard yelling at each other in the locker room, something coaches later tried to dismiss.
There’s also the simple matter of Joe Burrow just hitting his stride. He’s 0-3 against the Browns so far, but there are some noteworthy asterisks to put on the record. He’s coming off a week in which he threw for 481 yards with three scores and another as a runner.
Those Browns also have droves of injury concerns on the final report, with two offensive linemen, tight end David Njoku and cornerback Denzel Ward listed as out.
Had the Browns looked a little better in the face of adversity over the last month or so, this one might be a little harder to predict. But Burrow and Co. have started to hit their stride and, provided the gameplan helps get the ball out before Myles Garrett can hit home, the offense should keep cruising.
Make no mistake — shuttering Nick Chubb is near-impossible. But if the defense can keep up its historical pace of not allowing touchdowns late and bend-but-don’t-break attitude, the Bengals can escape with a win over an in-state rival.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Browns 24