Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals: Browns green with envy at Cincy's offense

Star in the stripes: Green is back at top speed after a toe injury
Star in the stripes: Green is back at top speed after a toe injury

Romilly Evans previews a crucial AFC North clash, where he expects the Bengals' star-studded line to overpower Cleveland's decent D

"Much like Nick Foles in Philly, Andy Dalton's team are compensating for his inadequacies at present"

Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals
Start-time: Friday, 01:30
TV: Live on SS1

If The Irresistible Force Meets The Immovable Object were a travelling stage play, this encounter would be its fifth run in Skegness. And the play's original leads of Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller have now been replaced by Leigh Francis and Brendan O'Carroll.

Sure, there's still a market for it, while the parts and themes are basically the same. But the individual performances may be lacking a little something. In short, while no Frankenstein has been created, tickets are still available for this primetime renewal of the Cincinnati Bengals versus the Cleveland Browns series.

Not that either side have much to be embarrassed about. Both remain firmly in the play-off picture at the season's midway point and have their destinies in their own hands in a perennially bruising AFC North. They have got here in contrasting fashions, though: the Browns relying on defense to dig them out of a hole; the Bengals trusting an explosive offensive line to buy some breathing space.

Cleveland are the underdogs and surprise packages to date (it's the first time their posted a plus-500 half-term report since 2007) and this divisional dogfight at Paul Brown Stadium will go a long way to determining whether they can stay the course. 

Quarterback Brian Hoyer keeps doing just enough to stave off rookie Johnny Manziel for the starting gig and proved the point with two more touchdowns for 300 yards to get the Browns over the line against Tampa Bay on Sunday. The defense, marshaled by leading linebacker Paul Kruger, did the rest - even if their final stand owed more to the Bucs pressing their traditional two-minute panic button.

Although Hoyer is currently 8-3 as a Cleveland starter, his two recent interceptions and the absence of a decent running game neatly demonstrate that the Browns are going to struggle to keep pace with the lightning-strike offense which Cincy operate. Andy Dalton is his opposite number and has some weapons on the wideouts that need little introduction.

AJ Green returned from a protracted toe injury with a TD at the weekend, while Mohamed Sanu appears one of this year's emerging stars. Sanu has stepped up for the sidelined Marvin Jones and Green in several games and now that the Bengals' receiving crew is returning to full health, the future looks rosy. Especially when you consider how running man Jeremy Hill also filled the void left by Giovani Bernard (hip tear) with 154 yards for two touchdowns at the weekend. 

In fact, the only doubt really resides in the man pulling the reigns under center. Dalton misfired for another two picks against lowly Jacksonville and although he atoned with a pair of TDs in a 33-23 victory, the jury's out on whether he can prove an elite QB. Much like Nick Foles in Philly, his talented team are compensating for his inadequacies at present and Dalton needs to find another level if the Bengals are to win a postseason match. 

Any triumph over the Jags merits more cynicism that congratulation, but Cincinnati did at least cover the Vegas line. The Browns fell a whisker shy against Tampa in an effort emblematic of a bigger offensive fragility. Home comforts are the clincher here. Indeed, Green and Sanu could run away with this. After all, "The Jungle" is a Bengal Tiger's natural habitat. Expect them to roll up the welcome mat and overcome a few handicap head-starts. 

Recommended Bets
Back Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Cincinnati Bengals (-12) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 3.55/2 or better
Back Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Cincinnati Bengals to score Over 25.5 Points @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back A. Green to score First / Anytime Touchdown @ 8.07/1 or better

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