Here are the keys to the games for Week 8:
Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) at San Francisco 49ers (5-2)
Sunday, Oct. 29 at Levi’s Stadium, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Two teams in opposite directions: The 49ers were among the elite NFL teams, boasting one of two undefeated records through five weeks. Then a stunning upset loss at Cleveland, followed by a humbling loss at Minnesota has San Francisco searching for answers. Should quarterback Brock Purdy miss the game because of a concussion, the answer will fall on the shoulders of backup Sam Darnold.
The Bengals, meanwhile, dusted themselves off after an 0-2 start to even their record at 3-3. If Joe Burrow’s thigh injury wasn’t in the rearview mirror earlier this month, it should be now after the team’s bye week. A well-rested Bengals team on the rise comes just in time as they start a six-game stretch against teams all with winning records.
Hey J_e, where’s the O? This is not a repeat of Week 5, when Burrow and the Bengals passing game was under the microscope. This week it’s RB Joe Mixon. Cincinnati ranks last in the NFL with 419 yards rushing and is second worst with just one rushing touchdown. It isn’t for lack of trying – Mixon is 12th in the league with 96 rushing attempts but averages just 3.8 yards-per-carry. In the Bengals’ last two wins, his average has dipped to 3.2 yards-per-carry.
Mixon owns the team’s only rush longer than 20 yards (22) back in the season opener at Cleveland. Since then, he has yet to break one over 14 yards. San Francisco has the third best run defense in the league, allowing just 79.4 yards per game.
Line: San Francisco 4 1/2. O/U: 43 1/2.
Prediction: Bengals take advantage of a 49ers team with more questions than answers 23-20.
Cleveland Browns (4-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-2)
Sunday, Oct. 29 at Lumen Field, 4:05 p.m. (FOX)
Quarterback value: Cleveland officially promoted backup quarterback P.J. Walker off the practice squad and signed him to a one-year contract worth just over $1 million. Walker, who is also making $2 million from his previous contract with the Chicago Bears, is effectively 2-0 as the Browns starter this season. He started in the 19-17 upset win at San Francisco and played nearly the entire game in the 39-38 thriller at Indianapolis.
Seattle employs a bend-but-don’t-break pass defense, ranking in the bottom third of the league in passing yards allowed (235), but tied for seventh in touchdown passes allowed (7). It also ranks fifth in QB sacks with 23. Combine that with a top 10 run defense and the Browns will have a tough road to hoe.
Walker, despite zero touchdown passes and three interceptions, has the confidence of the team, which is now just a half of a game behind the AFC North lead. Starting QB DeShaun Watson, who is in year two of a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract, will be inactive this week and potentially longer with a rotator cuff injury. The Browns are 2-2 with Watson under center.
A true road test: Last Sunday, the Browns began a stretch of games in which the team plays five of seven games away from Cleveland. They passed the test after a wild victory at Indianapolis, but Seattle is notorious for being among the hardest and loudest venues to play at.
The 12th Man, as it’s known in the NFL, helped set a Guinness World Record by reaching 136.6 decibels during a goal-line stand in the third quarter of a game against the San Francisco 49ers in 2013. Not much has changed since. In Seattle’s 37-27 win over Carolina in Week 3, the Panthers were flagged for eight false starts, including five over the final 17 minutes.
Line: Seattle 3 ½. O/U: 38 ½.
Prediction: Despite the Browns finding ways to win this season, Seattle’s defense will prove to be too tough to overcome. Seahawks, 24-13.