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The Cleveland Browns continue to make their push toward the playoffs, earning a rare road victory in Paul Brown Stadium over division rival Cincinnati Thursday night. After knocking off Oakland and Tampa Bay in recent weeks, the Browns have now won three straight to take over sole possession of second place in the AFC North. The Bengals, on the other hand, have dropped into third place with a difficult slate ahead of them.
The Browns proved they are going to be a force in this AFC Wild Card race and perhaps in the division, too, but the upstart club still has their work cut out for them in a very competitive conference. The Bengals, meanwhile, remain very much in playoff contention at 5-3-1, but need to straighten some things out in order to make a push in the division or vie for a Wild Card spot.
Here are five takeaways from the Browns win (and Bengals loss) on Thursday night.
Browns legitimate contenders?
Cleveland has reeled off three straight wins and now sits at 6-3 in second place in the AFC North. In previewing the AFC playoff picture down the stretch, it looked as if this Week 10 contest could spell the demise of the Browns. Instead, it’s shining on a light on the team that suddenly has a leg up on the competition in the AFC.
A quick glance at the Browns’ resume shows wins over New Orleans, Pittsburgh and now Cincinnati, which means two current division leaders and the reigning AFC North champions. Cleveland still has showdowns against Houston and at Atlanta and Buffalo before returning home for a game against the AFC South-leading Colts and a re-match with these Bengals. It won’t be easy, but maybe we need to start believing in these Browns and forget the past of those Browns.
Bengals destined for failure?
It’s been nearly impossible to get a gauge on this Bengals team. They started the year 3-0 before a shellacking at the hands of New England Week 5. From there, they started to topple, going 0-2-1 leading up to back-to-back wins over division rival Baltimore and Jacksonville. But then a 21-point loss at home to Cleveland — that’s simply inexplicable for a legitimate contender.
Now Cincinnati has to head out on the road for three straight road games, including trips to New Orleans and Houston, before rounding out the regular season with two games against the Steelers, Broncos and these Browns. That’s no easy task, especially for a team as inconsistent as the Bengals.
The Gordon impact
So far, the Browns have gotten by with the likes of Cowboys cast-off Miles Austin and youngster Taylor Gabriel as their top wide receivers. Josh Gordon has been suspended for the first 10 games of the year while tight end Jordan Cameron has battled injuries and been out of the lineup more than he’s been a factor.
But at the month’s end, Gordon returns to this upstart Browns club for their Week 13 contest in Northern New York in a critical showdown with the Bills, which should have major ramifications in terms of the AFC Wild Card race. Gordon, of course, led the NFL in receiving in 2013 despite a revolving door under the center for the Browns. Now he’ll get the solid Brian Hoyer, which should pay immediate dividends for the offense.
Should Dalton be benched?
Dalton may have put forth the worst quarterback performance of the year. According to NFL media, Dalton has the lowest quarterback rating of any player that has attempted 30 passes since 1983. Dalton went 10-of-33 for 86 yards and three touchdowns.
On the year, Dalton has thrown for more than 300 yards just twice, but has averaged 178 yards through the air over the last four games, which has coincided with a 2-2 mark. Dalton’s inaccuracy and inability to make plays forced wideout A.J. Green to throw his arms up in frustration on Thursday night, and if Dalton can’t get support from his teammates, there has be a thought of whether the team elects to go in another direction this season or begins to plan for the post-Dalton era, which according to his contract can begin after the 2015 season.
Will we see Johnny Football at all?
Prior to kickoff, we wrote about how big of a game this would be in terms of the Johnny Manziel‘s future as the Browns’ starting quarterback. Almost simultaneously, NFL Media reported this was the first of a critical three-game stretch in which the Browns front office would decide whether or not to extend Hoyer’s contract or elect to move on from the 29-year-old in favor of the first-round pick, Manziel.
However, despite the lack of eye-popping statistics, Hoyer has exceeded the Browns’ expectations and has helped lead the team to a 6-3 mark. Hoyer has been careful with the football, but not to the point where he’s unable to make plays. He’s 9-3 in his career as the Browns’ starter with a 90.4 quarterback rating on the season. So long as the team continues to pile up wins, how do you bench Hoyer?
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