The last time the Bengals faced the Browns, they were 4.5-point road favorites, and why not? Cincinnati was coming off back-to-back wins against the Steelers and the Packers (at the time, we thought those were pretty good wins), and the Browns were giving a former Patriots backup named Brian Hoyer only the third start of his career.
It figured to be a fairly easy Cincinnati win. Until, that is, Hoyer threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns, the Browns defense held Bengals running backs Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis to 50 combined yards, and Cleveland kept Cincinnati without a touchdown for the only time this season in a 17-6 win.
Now, the Bengals are coming off two bad overtime losses, while Browns quarterback Jason Campbell, the team's third starter this season, has steadied his squad and is coming off a nice victory against the Ravens -- who just beat the Bengals, by the way.
So, naturally, the Bengals are 6.5-point favorites. Wait, what? Yes, Cincinnati is at home, but 6.5 seems way too large for this matchup. Here are three reasons why Cleveland will cover this one.
1) Campbell provides stability at the quarterback position. Brandon Weeden has been a disaster in his second season, and though Hoyer was impressive after he took Weeden's job from him, he was quickly lost for the season with an injury. Campbell has started the last two games, combining to complete 63.4 percent of his passes for 555 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Cleveland has been a team of runs, losing their first two, winning the next three, losing the three after that, and winning two weeks ago before last week's bye. Campbell, a solid starter throughout his career, will continue to steady Cleveland.
2) With the possible exception of cornerback Joe Haden, there are no star names on Cleveland's defense. But it's an awfully good unit anyway. The Browns rank fifth in the league in yards allowed, and they're especially tough against the run (the Bengals know this from last time). Bernard has played well lately for Cincinnati -- and could become one of the scariest running backs in the league during the next few years -- but here's what Cleveland's run defense has accomplished lately: kept Ray Rice at 11 carries and 17 yards and kept Jamaal Charles (one of the best running backs this season) at 4.1 yards per carry.
3) What's wrong with Andy Dalton? Or is this just how he's always going to play? Great one minute or one game. Awful the next. CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel wonders about Dalton's future, and I wrote something similar last season after the Bengals lost to the Texans in the playoffs. In Weeks 6-8, Dalton was fantastic (345 passing yards per game, an 11-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio). But in the last two weeks, he's combined for six interceptions and hasn't topped the 56 mark in quarterback rating. The Browns will take advantage.
Follow Josh Katzowitz on Google+