Tonight the Cleveland Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals on national television — if you can call the NFL Network national television. It will be test of the team that will cause Browns fans to hold their breath for a number of reasons.
First, Browns fans are used to one immutable rule: if the Browns are on national TV, they will suck. Sure, the Browns have won some of those games, but the wins have been dismal, low-scoring, ugly affairs. More often, the Browns get clobbered, embarrassed, and exposed and their hopeful fans get deflated. It’s one thing for Browns fans to suffer through lame efforts like we’ve seen the last three weeks when the Browns are playing on an watched, regionally televised that gets the worst broadcast team on the network, it’s quite another thing to suffer the red-faced humiliation that comes from getting schooled on prime time.
Second, the Browns’ schedule has been the weakest in the NFL so far, which is why no one respects them. In their last three games, the Browns have played a winless team, a winless team, and a team with one win — and they lost one of those games and barely eked out wins in the other two. A win is a win is a win, but the Browns are the flimsiest 5-3 team in the NFL. The Bengals, on the other hand, are a team that made the playoffs last year and has a lot of talent and experience. The Browns have beaten New Orleans and Pittsburgh at home this year, but the Bengals will be the toughest test yet.
Third, the Browns are on the road, and playing in a venue where the Bengals have won 14 straight regular season games. The last time the Browns had a road game, they played an appallingly bad game and lost to previously winless Jacksonville. How are they going to perform in “The Jungle,” where Cincinnati seems to play like Super Bowl champs?
Still, it’s the Battle Of Ohio, and this is a series where upsets have often happened before. If the Browns want to make a statement that they are for real, this is a good place to do it.