Bengals Matchup with the Browns is A “Must-Win”

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Tonight’s matchup with the Browns is a must-win for the Bengals. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals face the Cleveland Browns tonight at Paul Brown Stadium. It’s the Bengals’ third divisional game of the year (out of six) and should be considered a “must-win” for the Queen City’s finest. The Bengals need to be in desperation mode from the opening kickoff as the game should prove to be a hard fought battle for all sixty minutes.

The Bengals’ schedule the rest of the way isn’t one to be envied. Following the home game tonight, the Bengals will finish the regular season with five of seven games being played on the road. This includes a three game road trip following tonight’s game against New Orleans, Houston, and Tampa Bay. The Bengals’ final four games are incredibly difficult as they’ll face Pittsburgh at home, Cleveland at FirstEnergy Stadium, Denver at home, and Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

Head-to-head tiebreakers are going to be of paramount importance in such a tight division. The Bengals did themselves a huge favor by sweeping the Ravens. It allows them to control their own destiny when looking to gain an advantage over the AFC North.  The division standings currently look like this.

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If the Bengals can split their remaining games with the Browns and Steelers, they would own the tie-breaker advantage over the rest of the AFC North.  As you can also see, the Browns and Steelers have been extremely successful at home with the Browns having only lost to the Ravens and the Steelers having only lost to the Browns.  The Bengals’ best opportunity to gain an advantage over the Browns and Steelers is to win at home.  Doing so would give them this vital advantage over the AFC North.

More specifically with regards to Cleveland, the Browns are likely going to be a much different team the second time the Bengals square off with them.  Besides the fact that the Browns are seemingly a much better team at home, they will also be getting back All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon who is nearing the end of his 10-game suspension.  Not only that, but the Browns will be missing tight end Jordan Cameron tonight as he’s already been ruled out for the game.

Despite the Browns’ assertion that the offense won’t change for Josh Gordon, it inevitably will.  Gordon will be targeted often as he stretches the field, which will allow the run game more room to operate while Andrew Hawkins will enjoy the same benefit.  Gordon will give Brian Hoyer a big target to work with and an incredibly reliable receiver who can make big plays in difficult moments.

Considering the Bengals’ struggles against pass-catching tight ends, Jordan Cameron’s presence will present the Bengals with a big issue.  He’ll be a great target both in the redzone and on third downs while providing Hoyer with a great “safety valve” presence when facing pressure or broken plays.  Both of these players will give the Browns a huge boost in these teams’ second matchup in Week 15.

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Finally, the Bengals get another opportunity tonight to get themselves over the mental hurdle of playing during “prime time.”  Tonight is a nationally-televised, under-the-lights game, and considering the Bengals’ struggles during these games, winning would give this team a huge boost of confidence.  The Bengals will never be the team fans are hoping for if they can’t win these big, under-the-spotlight games.  Tonight’s matchup gives the Bengals the chance to prove they aren’t so helpless on the big stage.

Tonight’s game is clearly a “must-win” for the Bengals.  When considering the upcoming schedule, the division’s competitiveness, the future of the Browns, and the Bengals’ prime time struggles, they need this win.  It would greatly increase their chances of making a fourth-straight playoff appearance and would begin to mend their broken national stage image.