Longtime division rivals Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals renew their in-state rivalry with a tilt at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday. The first task at hand for the Browns this week will be to bounce-back emotionally from its heartbreaking 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 as nine-point home underdogs. The Cincinnati Bengals, among the NFL picks to win a division title this year, will open their season on the road Monday night against another division rival, the Baltimore Ravens.
In the season opener, the Browns flashed some reasons for optimism, most notably a ball-hawking defense that intercepted Michael Vick four times and recovered a fumble. Forcing five turnovers is generally a recipe for success in the NFL, but not when you get an abysmal performance out of the quarterback position. Rookie Brandon Wheedon, the Browns’ first-round pick, appeared grossly overmatched during the entire game. He completed just 12-of-35 passes for 118 yards and, not to be outdone by Vick, through four interceptions of his own. Absolutely any production out of Wheedon probably would have been enough to spring a huge Browns’ upset of the Eagles.
“I take a lot of pride in playing better than that,” Wheedon told the Associated Press following his disappointing debut. “Our defense gave us every chance to win and offensively, myself included, took away from that. I’m down right now.”
The Cleveland defense did show itself to be a rather scrappy bunch that is likely to at least keep the Browns in the majority of games this season. In addition to shutting down the Eagles’ high-flying attack for most of the game, it was the Cleveland ‘D’ that provided the Browns with their only touchdown: a 27-yard interception return by cornerback D’Qwell Jackson.
The Cleveland defense will be tested through the air again this week by the Bengals, who enlist one of the top young quarterback-wide receiver combinations in the league with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Given the huge question mark at quarterback for the Browns and the young talent of the Bengals, wer’e predicting Cincinnati takes Round 1 of this year’s ‘Battle for Ohio.’