Too often, the so-called Battle of Ohio has been about as tasty as week-old Skyline Chili.
Not this week.
When the Browns travel to Cincinnati on Thursday night, there’s plenty at stake. Cleveland is 5-3, barely behind the first-place Bengals (5-2-1) and second-place Pittsburgh (6-3) in what has shaped up as an intriguing division. They’ve won four of their past five.
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”This is a big game,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said, noting he and his players won’t shy away from the pressure of being in contention halfway through the schedule.
”I don’t think I need to hype it any more as far as where we are. I’m not going to be that coach that just ignores it and doesn’t talk about it. That is our goal. I’m not going to hide from it, but at the same time, we have enough on our plate worrying about a short week and going down to Cincinnati and playing well.”
Cleveland must play better offensively than it did in its past three games, against NFL weaklings Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay. The Browns even managed to lose to the Jaguars, the only win so far for Jacksonville.
Cincinnati has had a slightly tougher road, and if head-to-head comparisons mean anything, the Bengals beat the Jags last week.
The Bengals (tied for No. 11 in AP Pro32) are 6 1-2 point choices over the Browns (No. 19, AP Pro32). Don’t expect a lot of points in this one.
No. 7 Pittsburgh (minus 4 1-2) at No. 30 New York Jets
New York can’t beat Pittsburgh even when the Jets are good. They are not good this year.
BEST BET: STEELERS, 27-16
No. 13 Miami (plus 2 1-2) at No. 5 Detroit
Dolphins’ defense can cause problems for anyone.
UPSET SPECIAL: DOLPHINS, 20-17
No. 11 (tie) Kansas City (minus 2) at No. 15 Buffalo
Whoever thought this game would be so meaningful?
No. 3 Denver (minus 11 1-2) at No. 32 Oakland
Peyton won’t ”stink” this Sunday, but the Raiders might.
No. 16 San Francisco (plus 4 1-2) at No. 14 New Orleans
Even the 49ers’ general manager is expressing concern about his team.
No. 23 Chicago (plus 7 1-2) at No. 8 Green Bay
Nothing could be better for Aaron Rodgers coming off a bye than facing the Bears.
No. 20 Carolina (plus 6) at No. 4 Philadelphia, Monday night
The ”Sanchize” gets the prime-time spotlight in an offense he might actually fit well.
No. 28 Tennessee (plus 9 1-2) at No. 17 Baltimore
Ravens needs to straighten themselves out fast. This is a good opponent to do so against.
No. 24 St. Louis (plus 7) at No. 2 Arizona
Wonder if the folks in St. Louis would like to have these Cardinals back.
No. 25 New York Giants (plus 9) at No. 9 Seattle
Seahawks still have not hit their stride. Maybe this week …
No. 27 Atlanta (minus 1 1-2) at No. 31 Tampa Bay
It’s for the NFC South cellar, and this won’t come close to their previous meeting (Falcons 56-14).
No. 10 Dallas (OFF) vs. No. 29 Jacksonville at London
Tony Romo’s back injury takes this one off the board. Shouldn’t matter for Cowboys who is at QB.
2014 RECORD: Against spread: This week (7-6); Season (65-63-4). Straight up: This week (9-4); Season (87-45-1)
Best Bet: 5-4 against spread, 6-3 straight up.
Upset special: 6-3 against spread, 4-5 straight up.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL