COLUMBUS (WCMH) – It’s too early to hit the NFL panic button in Cleveland and Cincinnati, but both teams want to right the ship after each lost their respective AFC North Division games last Sunday.
Here are the keys to the games for Week 3:
Tennessee Titans (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)
Sunday, Sept. 24 at Cleveland Browns Stadium, 1 p.m.
DeShaun Watson: Nick Chubb is out for the season, and while Kareem Hunt is back into the fold, the season is on Watson now. Watson is in year two of a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract he signed last season. Watson, however, has yet to shine as the franchise quarterback in Cleveland. In fact, this season, the man Watson replaced, Baker Mayfield, is sporting a 104.4 rating, with 490 yards passing, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Watson has a 69.1 rating, with 389 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and coughed up two defensive touchdowns to the Steelers in a Monday night loss. Mayfield is making $8.5 million on a one-year deal in Tampa Bay.
The Browns aggressively sought out Watson, giving up three first-round picks, a third and a fourth, while getting a fifth-round pick in return from the Houston Texans. The Browns are literally banking on victories for their investment in Watson, who is 4-4 as a starter since joining the team.
Third down: The Titans are among the best at holding opposing offenses on third down. In last Sunday’s 27-24 overtime win against the Chargers, Tennessee allowed LA to convert just two of 14 third-down opportunities. The Browns are 30th in the league converting just nine of 30 third-down opportunities (four-of-14 Week 1, five-of-16 Week 2).
Line: Cleveland -3. O/U: 39 ½
Prediction: Titans grind out a 19-16 victory.
LA Rams (1-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-2)
Monday, Sept. 25 at Paycor Stadium, 8:15 p.m.
Regular or Decalf?: Just before the season began, Joe Burrow became the highest-paid player in NFL history, signing a five-year, $275 million contract. Much like his counterpart up north, Burrow has yet to perform up to his assumed value and the Bengals are 0-2 for the second season in a row. The slow start can at least partially be attributed to Burrow’s calf injury he suffered during training camp.
The Bengals have relied on short passing routes, perhaps to relieve the stress on Burrow’s injury, with little down-field aggression or rollouts. Burrow ranks last in the league with 4.2 yards per pass attempt through two weeks. With limited mobility, he’s been sacked 13 times while compiling just 304 yards with two TDs and an interception. He also tweaked the injury in a Week 2 loss to the Ravens and questions on his availability and/or ability remain influx.
A Burrow-less Bengals team might not be the worst decision long-term, but it would put Jake Browning under center this week. Browning, who has attempted just four passes in his NFL career, completed 32-of-45 passes for 277 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions during the 2023 preseason.
Cooper who?: WR Cooper Kupp is shelved with a hamstring injury but the Rams passing attack is still performing well. WR Puka Nacua leads the league with 25 receptions and is second with 266 yards. Tutu Atwell is 10th in the NFL with 13 receptions and eighth with 197 yards. Don’t sleep on this underrated receiver unit.
Line: Cincinnati 2 ½. O/U: 43 ½
Prediction: Rams pull off the upset, 23-20