Thursday Night Football already wasn’t doing NFL fans justice. Not only were the games largely sub-par and relative blowouts due to a short week, but the matchups either weren’t even or they were downright boring. The latter could be the case Thursday, as “the battle of Ohio” gets going when the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns get to work.

This is actually a relatively good matchup considering the AFC North is completely wide open and both of these teams are above .500. It should also serve as a good indicator of whether or not the Bengals are a serious threat in the AFC, as well if whether or not the 5-3 Browns (no, you read that right) have a realistic shot at sneaking into the playoffs.

Brian Hoyer and co. don’t provide many big plays and the product on TNF can be pretty weak, but it’s possible we’re not giving this duel the credit it deserves. To get a better idea of what we’re in for, let’s break down the key notes for tonight’s NFL showdown:

No Gio, No Problem

Giovani Bernard will likely miss his second straight game due to lingering injuries, but that’s not a problem thanks to mashing rookie running back, Jeremy Hill. Hill thrived as the starter last week, as he put up over 150 rushing yards and two scores on 24 carries last week. Bernard isn’t officially out yet, but no one expects him to play. That might give Cincy a slight hit in terms of explosiveness, but what Hill did last week showed the overall drop-off is probably minimal. In other words, if you’re only betting against the Bengals because Gio is out, you may want to rethink that.

Manziel Sighting?

Brian Hoyer is the unquestioned starter in Cleveland, but with each passing week everyone wonders more and more if Johnny Manziel could make this team better than it currently is. It’s an obvious “probably”, but so far it’s hard to bench Hoyer, who hasn’t lit up the league, but also hasn’t cratered and dragged the Brownies down with him. Still, it’s worth tuning in just to see if the Browns will work up a gadget play or two for Johnny Football. Of course, Hoyer tends to get games started off slowly, too, so it’s always within the realm of possibility that he gets benched for Manziel at the half.

A.J. Green, Unleashed?

Green made his return from a toe injury last week and quickly made his presence known with three catches and a score in a win over the Jaguars. He says he’s even more comfortable a week later and he could be in for a much bigger role. That’s bad news for the Browns, who have struggled against the pass this year. Stud corner Joe Haden has been better lately, though, so this will definitely be a matchup worth monitoring.

Ultimately, the Bernard for Hill exchange is a wash, while Green’s presence keeps the slight edge with the Bengals for tonight’s TNF clash. Cleveland has a mystique about them that should put doubt in the mind’s of anyone betting, but the Bengals are also at home and on paper are still the better team. Cincy is the favorite with a -6 line, although that’s not a fun spread to play with on the Bengals side. Picking the Browns to beat the spread isn’t a bad idea, while taking the Bengals straight up is probably the safest route when it comes to NFL betting for Thursday’s action.

Pick: Bengals 27, Browns 24

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