The Cincinnati Bengals travel up I-71 to take on the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 of the NFL season. The Battle of Ohio pits the two underdogs in the AFC North against each other for a guaranteed share of the division lead.
Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio
When: Sunday, Sept. 11 at 1 p.m. EDT
Listen: Cincinnati—WEBN (102.7 FM) and WCKY (1530 AM); Cleveland—WMMS (100.7 FM) and WTAM (1100 AM); Sirius Satellite Radio—Cincinnati XM 106 (Internet 863), Cleveland XM 113 (Internet 864)
Live Streaming Audio: NFL.com Audio Pass ($29.99 for year, $27.99 team specific, $9.99 a month)
Betting Line: Cincinnati +7
What's at Stake?
Neither team has been given any chance of making the playoffs, and this is the first chance to prove the doubters wrong. Both sides will be starting a young quarterback, with Andy Dalton starting his first career game for the Bengals and Colt McCoy leading the Browns offense.
It's also a chance to claim dominance over the state. The rivalry between the Bengals and Browns isn't nearly as fierce as it should be, but that's likely due to both teams struggling over the past decade. If they were battling for the division crown, it would likely pick up some momentum.
Bengals' Injury Report
Out: LB Keith Rivers (wrist) and LB Dontay Moch (foot)
Questionable: DL Carlos Dunlap (knee)
Browns' Injury Report
Questionable: LB Chris Gocong (neck), TE Benjamin Watson (hip), Usama Young (hamstring) and DB Eric Hagg (knee)
Probable: WR Mohamed Massaquoi (foot), WR Josh Cribbs (hamstring) and WR Carlton Mitchell (finger)
Fantasy: Start 'Em, Sit 'Em and Sleeper
Start 'Em: RB Peyton Hillis – Browns
The Madden '12 cover boy will try to avoid the jinx as he starts his season against a team that gave up for than 115 yards per game on the ground last season. In a game otherwise devoid of any useful fantasy players, Hillis should get a bunch of carries and put up nice totals.
Prediction: 25 carries, 110 yards and a touchdown
Sit 'Em: WR A.J. Green—Bengals
Green has all the tools to be a great wide receiver in the NFL, but is stuck on an offense that is likely to produce many fireworks in 2011. He'll probably receive double-team treatment as a rookie and will struggle to become fantasy worthy until Dalton develops.
Prediction: four catches for 49 yards
Sleeper: TE Evan Moore—Browns
A former basketball player (always a good start for an NFL tight end), Moore is still developing his blocking skills, so he won't be on the field for every down. That said, he'll play all the obvious passing downs, and he's 6'6'', making him a great red zone target for McCoy.
Prediction: five catches for 48 yards and a touchdown
What They're Saying
Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer analyzed the depth chart released by the Bengals on Tuesday.
The Bengals first depth chart of the regular season was released on Tuesday with Clint Boling as the starter at right guard in place of Bobbie Williams, who is suspended for four games for a violation of the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances.
The fourth-round pick will be thrown into the fire quickly on Sunday at Cleveland as he goes against Browns first-round pick Phil Taylor.
Mike Peticca of the Cleveland Plain Dealer posted a quick overview of the Browns' lack of success since returning to Cleveland with a poll for predicting this season's result. With over 11,000 votes cast, the fans are optimistic, but not enough to push the Browns into the playoffs.
The Browns went 5-11 last season and are 64-128 since returning to the NFL as a franchise in 1999. In those 12 seasons, the Browns have posted two winning records: 9-7 in 2002 and 10-6 in 2007.
Cleveland went 2-14 in its first season, 1999 and 3-13 the following campaign. The Browns have finished 7-9 once and 6-10 once. Their final records have been 4-12 in three seasons and 5-11 in three other years.
Bengals Player to Watch: CB Leon Hall
The Bengals signed Hall to a four-year, $39 million extension last week and will now expect him to develop into the shutdown corner they were expecting when they drafted him with the 18th pick in 2007. He should have an easy assignment in Week 1 against Mohamed Massaquoi.
He made 44 tackles and intercepted four passes last season—not enough to warrant nearly $10 million per season. Hall has the talent and now he has the contract; it's time to step up and provide he belongs among the NFL's elite at the position.
Browns Player to Watch: WR Joshua Cribbs
Cribbs didn't see much action on special teams during the preseason, as the team tried to incorporate him more into the offense. It was also to avoid any unnecessary wear and tear on his body before the games started to matter.
When the ball is in Cribbs' hands, big things can, and usually do, happen. If he can become a bigger part of the offense, it will provide a nice boost to an otherwise questionable offense. He's the most explosive player on either team and could be the difference on Sunday.
Key Matchup: Andy Dalton vs. Colt McCoy
It's a big season for both young quarterbacks. Both teams are seemingly ready to give them the keys to the car and let them drive the offense for the next 17 weeks. While the teams around them aren't of the highest quality, they will be expected to make things happen or risk losing the job next offseason.
The biggest question about Dalton heading into the draft was arm strength. Does he put enough zip on his passes to complete those quick out routes? The offensive line play was so bad in the preseason that it was hard to tell, but that question will be answered in this game and all the ones moving forward.
As for McCoy, he had a couple really good games last season, including one against the Bengals. It will be difficult to determine his value because he doesn't have a true No. 1 receiver. He's got eight games under his belt and has 16 more to illustrate his ability, starting against an improved Bengals' secondary.
On the Hot Seat: RB Cedric Benson—Bengals
Fresh out of Travis County jail, where he spent three days for an assault charge, Benson will be expected to regain his burst that was nonexistent during the preseason. He's been able to avoid Father Time longer than most people expected, but he may be running out of gas.
Cincinnati will be counting on him to take some of the pressure off Dalton and the passing game. The Bengals don't have any great options behind him on the depth chart, so he'll be given every chance to perform. It's a situation to monitor closely moving forward, especially for fantasy players.
Prediction: Cleveland Browns 20 Cincinnati Bengals 13