The good news is at least one of these teams is going to come out of Sunday's matchup with a .500 record.
Neither the Cleveland Browns nor the Cincinnati Bengals got off to the start they wanted in Week 1. The Browns, especially, had a perfect opportunity to make a statement with an opening-week win against the Eagles: Michael Vick was having a terrible game, he couldn't seem to throw to the guys on the right team, and yet the Browns just couldn't do enough, turning the ball over four times themselves.
The Bengals had a bit more difficult of a time on Monday night against the Ravens, one of the consensus favorites to come out on top of the AFC in 2012. They kept it relatively close after the first half, but they managed just a single field goal in the second—and were shut out in the fourth quarter—en route to a 44-13 loss.
You have to figure that these two teams will have a far easier time against each other on Sunday. Here's where and when you can catch the action.
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
When: Sunday, September 16 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Game Pass
Betting Line (via Bovada): Bengals -7
What's At Stake?
One of these teams is desperate to perpetuate the little bit of momentum it generated in 2011, while the other, with its cast of talented rookies, is desperately hoping that this season is the season things are different.
The Bengals have been notoriously up and down for the last several years. One season, they'll win four games, and the next, they'll win nine or 10. They've alternated on that pattern since 2008, but this year, they will aim to shatter the trend to the tune of two consecutive winning seasons.
Obviously, they didn't get off to a good start in Week 1, and in order to make the playoffs, they're going to have to learn how to beat the league's elite. The Browns won't necessarily test that this week, but a win over them would be nice.
The Browns, meanwhile, are fighting the Bengals to avoid being the worst team in the AFC North once again. And it's not looking good for them. Aside from a 10-6 campaign in 2007, Cleveland hasn't won more than six games in a season since 2002.
This week's game, therefore, could potentially be a statement for them. The Bengals certainly aren't the most dominant team in the division, but for the Browns, beating them could signal that things really are different this year.
Key Injuries: Browns (via CBS Sports)
- Defensive back Joe Haden is suspended until Week 6
- Linebacker Scott Fujita (leg) missed Week 1 against the Eagles
- Linebacker James-Michael Johnson (ribs, oblique) missed Week 1 against the Eagles
- Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis (right thumb) missed Week 1 against the Eagles
- Running back Chris Ogbonnaya (ankle) missed Week 1 against the Eagles
- Defensive back Usama Young (thigh) missed Week 1 against the Eagles
Key Injuries: Bengals (via CBS Sports)
- Defensive back George Iloka (ankle) came out of Monday's loss to Baltimore
- Defensive back Jason Allen (quadriceps) missed Week 1 at the Ravens
- Defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap (knee) missed Week 1 at the Ravens
- Defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) missed Week 1 at the Ravens
- Tight end Donald Lee (thigh) missed Week 1 at the Ravens
- Running back Bernard Scott (hand) missed Week 1 at the Ravens
- Linebacker Dontay Moch is suspended and cannot return until Week 5
Fantasy Prospect to Watch: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
The former Patriots running back had a terrific stretch for New England from 2010-11, when he accumulated a total of 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Bengals' rushing attack immediately looks more formidable with him in the mix, and though his opening-week performance wasn't incredibly explosive, it was still OK.
In Week 1 against the Ravens, Green-Ellis got 18 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown. Of course, you'd like to see him hit the 100-yard mark, but perhaps facing the Ravens' defense in Week 1 didn't present the ideal opportunity to do so.
The Browns' defense, on the other hand, should present a better opportunity for Green-Ellis to pad his stats. Last week, the Browns allowed 456 total yards to the Eagles.
What They're Saying
After just one week, Browns fans are questioning whether the team made the right decision by demoting Colt McCoy in favor of Brandon Weeden, who then proceeded to throw for 118 yards, zero touchdowns and four picks.
ESPN.com reports that Weeden's quarterback rating of 5.1 was the lowest for any rookie quarterback who attempted 15 passes in a season opener in 42 years.
It wasn't exactly the kind of start the Browns were hoping to get out of their alleged quarterback of the future, but nevertheless, they have faith that Weeden will turn it around. Of Weeden, head coach Pat Shurmur told ESPN.com:
He won't lose his confidence. I think it's important we go back, just like we do each week, work on the fundamentals of playing the position and get ready to play the next team. That's it.
After the way the 2012 season began for the Bengals, Cincinnati is already wondering whether this team can manage to improve upon last year's moderate success, or whether it is destined for another downfall.
According to The Plain Dealer's Dennis Manoloff, perhaps the Bengals' 2011 "success" was a bit overblown, so a dip in 2012 wouldn't be all that unexpected. Manoloff explains:
The Bengals of 2011 joined a long list of teams that feasted on cupcakes en route to the playoffs. Soft schedules help fuel parity, and nobody does parity quite like the NFL. The teams that benefit, though, have a high burden of proof the following season, especially when they face a much tougher schedule.
Even if the Bengals can only beat up on the bad teams, though, the Browns qualify, so it is crucial that Cincy get a win this week.
Browns Key Player
Objectively, the Browns made the right choice in this year's NFL draft when they opted for Trent Richardson. The Browns offense had a plethora of problems in 2011, and it could have opted to bolster its wide receiving corps with the addition of a guy like Justin Blackmon.
Instead, it opted for Richardson, despite concerns that drafting a running back so high was a mistake. Hopefully, for the sake of the Browns' future, it wasn't.
Richardson was one of the key components of Alabama's national championship team in 2011, but you wouldn't know it from his NFL debut, when he rushed for a mere 39 yards on 19 carries. Against the Eagles' defense.
The Bengals allowed 430 total yards in Week 1. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for Richardson to get a tune-up.
Bengals Key Player
To say Andy Dalton struggled in the Bengals' season opener is a massive understatement. No, he wasn't as bad as Weeden—virtually no one in the world was—but he didn't exactly pick up where he left off in his rookie campaign, when he led the Bengals to a 9-7 record and threw for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns.
True, Dalton was playing against the Ravens. But that's no excuse. If the Bengals are ever going to be able to compete, they're going to need Dalton to learn how to beat the good teams, not just the bad ones. And that means he can't afford another game in which he throws zero touchdowns and a pick-six and is sacked four times.
Who will have a better game on Sunday?
No team in the NFL can succeed without a competent quarterback. In 2011, Dalton looked like he could possibly be one of them. A win over the Browns would go a long way toward proving that last season wasn't a fluke.
Prediction: Bengals Win
Cincinnati looked awful in Week 1, but the Ravens are capable of making a lot of decent teams look awful. The Browns looked awful, and they were playing against the Eagles. Not so impressive.
The Bengals at least displayed some positive offensive signs: Green-Ellis had a good enough game, and Dalton is at least capable of success. We can't yet say the same thing about Weeden, who had a historically bad NFL debut.
This one isn't going to be a blowout, but the Bengals should be able to come out on top.