Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals
Start-time: Friday, 01:30
TV: Live on SS1
A short week, but this time-honoured rivalry between these AFC North opponents should get them over their respective cuts and scrapes from two tough weekend encounters, and up for this 84th renewal of Cleveland Browns versus Cincinnati Bengals.
Of the pair, treatment-table issues to pivotal players appear to concern the Browns, who have likely lost seasoned quarterback Josh McCown to fractured ribs, leaving the way open to one-time great white hope, Johnny Manziel, for a shot at redemption.
A bruising encounter against Arizona (where Cleveland capitulated in the second half after establishing a 14-point cushion) hardly bodes well for this trip to Cincy, but the Bengals are not without their own doubts, despite an undefeated 7-0 record and an impressive overturn of the Pittsburgh Steelers at intimidating Heinz Field on Sunday.
QB Andy Dalton is clearly Cincinnati's driving force, a ready candidate for mid-season most valuable player, and on course to leave his career-long detractors (who assert that he always comes up short when it matters most) eating a large helping of humble pie by this campaign's close. Those selfsame naysayers maintained that Dalton was enjoying a false dawn when he opened with stellar 100-plus passer ratings over four successive games. But long story short, he's keeping it up. At least until those play-offs ask their perennial posers again.
Unusually, the Bengals can also boast a blemish-free roster. No-one's banged-up on the sidelines, and the resulting clean bill of combined health is creating sky-high confidence, perhaps the one attribute that has been missing from Cincy's recent postseason pushes.
Cleveland, for their part, must now embrace the uncertainty of "Johnny Football" and hope he's been studying his playbook diligently as he used to peruse the social calendar. Yet the signs are that Manziel has learnt some lessons from the complacency which followed his glowing collegiate accolades.
The 22-year-old even marshalled a fistful of token plays under center against Arizona. So perhaps this isn't quite the baptism of fire it might be, despite the Bengals lack of offensive continuity. I'll skip merrily over their defense by the way, that's just depressing. Indeed, on a night where everyone's expecting another embarrassing breakdown (early Vegas lines suggest this is a near two-touchdown game), Manziel should see this as his chance to belatedly breakthrough in the glare of the national spotlight.
That depleted D aside, Cleveland actually have some very useful tools at their disposal, it's just that they don't match up collectively for a cogent system. It's ostensibly a case of square pegs and round holes. But hey, they've still got Joe Thomas (after his deadline-day deal to Denver fell through) while rookie Danny Shelton must surely step up soon.
In essence, you've got two sides coming from opposite ends of both Ohio and the form spectrum. One's operating at maximum efficiency, the other at minimum. And while all the momentum is with the Bengals, it would only take one of those three Browns to produce a man-of-the-match performance to turn things on their head here. Or at least keep them well within the confines of an 11-point start.
So trust Manziel to have done his homework, reduce the mistakes, and click his new troops into a higher gear for this year's Battle of The Buckeye. He may have acted like a joker in the past, but jokers don't typically win the Heisman Trophy.
Tim Tebow told me that.
Back Cleveland Browns (+10.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.9520/21 or better
Back Cleveland Browns (+5.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 2.111/10 or better
Back Over 16.5 Cleveland Browns Points @ 1.9520/21 or better