Cincinnati Bengals’ rookie quarterback Joe Burrow will get his first opportunity to outduel Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns on Thursday.
The first iteration of the Battle of Ohio is upon us and while it always carries extra emphasis, this year provides a particularly thrilling matchup. The Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow vs. the Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield. Heisman vs. Heisman. First overall pick vs. first overall pick.
For Mayfield, this is an opportunity to show the football world he hasn’t regressed and to keep his team out of an 0-2 hole after a humbling defeat in week one. For Burrow, it’s his first chance to leave his stamp on the rivalry, build the lore around his name, and prove he belongs.
It may only be week two of the regular season, but there is plenty on the line for the first primetime matchup of the year for the two franchises.
Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield decide the pecking order of the AFC North
Both the Browns and the Bengals are all too familiar with being on the bottom of the totem pole. Cleveland seems to be the perennial laughing stock of the league and Cincinnati has the longest-running playoff drought in the NFL.
Ironically, the first step out of the cellar for both clubs is to beat the opposing organization. In other words, whichever side wins the series pushes the other back into the basement of the AFC North, climbs closer to competing with the Ravens, and takes one step forward towards a wild card spot.
Both teams have strong defensive lines and thrilling skill position players but it will likely come down to end-game heroics from the two guys under center.
Injuries make things difficult on Burrow, Mayfield
Neither franchise quarterback will have an easy path to victory on Thursday night. Burrow was already dealing with a floundering offensive line in front of him and now, he’s lost starting right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to injury for the next couple of weeks.
Not to mention, he might not get as much help from his defense as he did in week one. Cincinnati is dangerously thin at defensive tackle, with all-pro Geno Atkins missing his second game and former Pro Bowler Mike Daniels sidelined as well. Against Cleveland’s outstanding backfield, this is a troubling development.
Mayfield will have to deal with his fair share of injuries as well. Star wide receiver Jarvis Landry, two starting tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills, as well as center JC Tretter, are all questionable for the big matchup.
To make matters worse, linebackers Mack Wilson and Jacob Phillips, along with corners Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson have been ruled out. This makes a weak back seven even weaker and puts the pressure on Mayfield to put up plenty of points to give his defense room for error.
The sign of a true franchise quarterback is the ability to mask the deficiencies of the roster around them. With so many injuries piling up, both quarterbacks will certainly get the opportunity to do just that.
As the pair of first overall picks prepare to battle for the first time in the bitter Bengals-Browns rivalry, can Burrow outduel Mayfield to take Ohio’s throne?