Rust Belt Battle: Watson Must Return To Form Quickly For Underdog Browns

Hot and at home, Cincinnati is favored to avenge its Halloween drubbing in Cleveland

Had you been told in most past years the Cleveland Browns were two games under .500 with five to play, you’d have rightfully assumed that their postseason hopes had been all but dashed. But with the NFL playoffs now including seven teams per conference for the second year, the Browns find themselves just two games back of the 7-5 Jets for the AFC’s final playoff spot.

If they’re to make a legitimate run, controversial quarterback Deshaun Watson, who looked extremely rusty (just 121 passing yards and an interception in Sunday’s win over Houston) in his first regular-season game in 700 days, is going to have to regain his old form in a hurry. Cleveland visits AFC North rival Cincinnati on Sunday, and the 8-4 Bengals have won four straight since receiving a 32-13 thumping at Cleveland on Halloween.

Just as the Browns were without the then-suspended Watson for that tilt, the Bengals were absent injured wideout Ja’Marr Chase, who returned Sunday to contribute to an impressive win over Kansas City. And Cincy QB Joe Burrow is showing no signs of the Super Bowl hangover that may or not have plagued him and his teammates earlier this season, as he now trails only the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes in passing yardage.

Ohioans will not be able to legally bet on sports until Jan. 1, but elsewhere the Bengals are 5.5-point favorites over the Browns at BetMGM and the SuperBook, both of which will soon offer wagering in the Buckeye State. Both books have the over/under set at 47 points, with the SuperBook offering a better price on the Cleveland moneyline (+195) and BetMGM choicer odds for Bengals backers at -225.

Mixon in the mix?

Cincy running back Joe Mixon, who scored four touchdowns in Week 9 against Carolina, is favored to find the end zone first on Sunday (+430 at the SuperBook, 6/1 at BetMGM). But those considering that wager should proceed cautiously, as it’s still uncertain whether Mixon will be active for this game after sitting the last two out with a concussion. (An encouraging sign is that he’s been a full practice participant this week.)

Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, the NFL’s second-leading rusher behind Las Vegas’ Josh Jacobs, has an over/under of 73.5 yards for this game, with the SuperBook offering a slightly better price (-115) both ways. The two sportsbooks are also in lockstep on passing yardage totals, with Burrow at 278.5 and Watson at 225.5.

Watson, a fabulous running QB throughout his career, ran seven times for 21 yards against the Texans, well below his career average of 5.4 yards per carry. Both the SuperBook and BetMGM have his rushing total set at 25.5 in this game, which would require a far more modest improvement than his passing yards prop. Therefore, bettors might be wise to wager on Watson’s legs instead of his right arm.

Burrow factoring into MVP race

While sitting pretty for the playoffs at 8-4, the Bengals have a lot to play for in this game. They would most certainly like to avenge their Halloween loss to Cleveland, considering they have a golden opportunity to pass Baltimore in the divisional standings with Lamar Jackson expected to miss one or more games due to a knee injury.

A Jan. 2 game against Buffalo also looms large. The Bengals already hold the tiebreaker against the Chiefs, and if they’re able to establish the same level of superiority over the Bills, they could be well-positioned for a first-round bye.

And if Burrow is able to topple both Mahomes and Josh Allen in the same season, he’ll be looking like a pretty viable MVP candidate, with his current odds to claim the honor a juicy 8/1 at BetMGM.

Photo: Troy Taormina/USA TODAY


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