Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (-1.5, 44 o/u)
It’s “Johnny Football” time in Cleveland, as rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel will lead the Cleveland Browns (7-6, 4-3 home) against the Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1, 4-2 away) in a do-or-die game.
When the Browns picked Manziel in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, fans in Cleveland were clamoring for the electric Texas A&M product to start. However, veteran Brian Hoyer staved off Manziel by going 7-4 through the first 12 weeks of the season. But Hoyer has played four dismal games in a row and now, with Cleveland’s playoff hopes hanging by a thread, head coach Mike Pettine is turning the reins over to the rookie.
“I’m very excited to get out on the field with my teammates on Sunday and to have the opportunity to make the Dawg Pound proud,” Manziel said. “I’ve tried to spend my entire season learning what it takes to become a pro and it’s been great to watch Brian because he knows what it takes. I’ve prepared every week to be ready to help the team however possible and my focus has been on improving every day.”
Said Pettine, “We are trying to get the offense to perform at a higher level. Johnny has worked very hard to earn this opportunity and it will be very important for every member of the offense to elevate their play for us to obtain our desired result.”
While Browns fans will be anxious to see Manziel air it out, the game plan for the Browns will likely revolve around two other rookies: running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. The tandem dominated the Bengals in week 10, combining for 170 yards during a 24-3 win in Cincinnati. If Pettine is smart, he will lean on the run game again to ease Manziel into his first start.
As for the Bengals, head coach Marvin Lewis gave the Browns bulletin board material earlier this week by calling Maziel a “midget” (which, surprise, is derogatory).
Though he apologized for the remark, Lewis should have been more focused on stopping the bleeding on defense than verbally sparring with opponents. Last weekend, Cincinnati gave up 543 yards of offense in a home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals led by three heading into the fourth quarter, but gave up 25 unanswered points in the final frame, putting not only their division lead, but their entire season, in peril.
The loss trimmed Cincy’s lead in the AFC North to just half a game over Pittsburgh and Baltimore, both of whom have easier schedules than the Bengals over the final three weeks. With high-scoring Broncos and Steelers still on tap on the final two weeks, the Cincy staff knows the defense needs to respond to better to in-game adversity.
“We have to be better when the odds are against us a little bit,” said Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “When things aren’t going quite as smoothly as we want them to go, we have to go out there and buckle up and play good defense.”
Considering this is Manziel’s first start, look for the Bengals defense to jump on the rookie early. That means taking the Bengals and the points (+1.5) is the right play.
(Photo credit: Erik Drost (flickr) “Johnny Manziel” [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]. Photo has been cropped.)
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