Thursday Night Football Picks — Bengals-Browns: Heisman-Winning QB’s Square Off

The Cincinnati Bengals‘ offense struggled a little in Joe Burrow‘s NFL debut, but maybe some of that was to be expected. The Cleveland Browns got very little going under Baker Mayfield last Sunday, and it just looked like the same old story again. BetOnline customers can see these Heisman winners, who were also the #1 picks in the draft, meeting up on Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium, beginning at 8:20 PM ET on NFL Network.

To be fair, each of these quarterbacks were going up against formidable defenses in the season opener.

Burrow was sacked three times by the Los Angeles Chargers, but he did use his legs to create something in the first quarter with a 23-yard TD run. That illustrated one of the characteristics that made him an attractive prospect. On an overall basis, he was 23 of 36 for 193 yards and an interception. He did indeed “short-arm” it, averaging less than 5.4 yards per attempt.

Because the Chargers were sputtering on offense themselves, the Bengals were able to stay in the game, and had a shot to win in the final seconds. AJ Green, the top target (five catches, 51 yards) was called for pass interference in the end zone, and then a missed Randy Bullock field goal attempt from just 31 yards prevented Cincy from tying the game at 16.

Mayfield did worse, averaging just 4.8 yards per throw, and finding Odell Beckham Jr. just three times for 22 yards. His team was blown out early by the Baltimore Ravens, on the short end of a 38-6 score.

Here are the Thursday night football odds, posted at BetOnline:

Cleveland Browns -6 (-109)
Cincinnati Bengals +6 (-111)

Over 43.5 points -110
Under 43.5 points -110

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if there was a silver lining for both teams, it’s that at least they got something of a running game going. Joe Mixon had 69 yards on the ground for the Bengals, while Kareem Hunt (72 yards) and Nick Chubb (60) combined for 132 yards for the Browns.

We’re not sure yet how to address Cleveland’s hiring of Kevin Stefanski as head coach, except to say that instability in terms of coaching regime isn’t necessarily going to help Mayfield’s career. Stefanski, fresh off working with Kirk Cousins in Minnesota, seems to advocate for the “dink-and-dink” stuff, while you might argue that under Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitchens, he got the ball down the field a little more. Truth be told, Kitchens was overwhelmed by the high expectations of last year’s team.

But you have to keep in mind that those expectations come about because Cleveland actually has a lot of talent. They have two receivers (Beckham and Jarvis Landry) who have been over a thousand yards, and two running backs (Hunt and Chubb) who have done the same. Then there is tight end Austin Hooper (late of Atlanta) as well. Mayfield has had a lot more time to work with the likes of Beckham and Landry than Burrow’s had with his connections, although we can’t calculate the effect of a “guru” who comes in and wants to impose changes to a system.

One could make an argument that turning around with just a couple of days of preparation may be a bit much for a guy (Burrow) making his second NFL start. And we still have to wonder that after that monster season he had with LSU (5671 yards, 60 TD’s), what can he accomplish without Joe Brady (now with Carolina) leading the way?

We’re not sure chemistry is going to be developed this week. At the same time, we are very wary laying this much of a number with Cleveland, especially as the Bengals have now lost eight games by seven points or less since the beginning of 2019. But offensive “growing pains” in addition to the lack of a crucial mini-camp in the spring handicaps both offenses. We’re going UNDER.

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