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2023 NFL Week 1 Betting Preview: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns

Bengals (0-0) at Browns (0-0)

Spread: Browns +2.5

Total: 47.5

Weather: Light winds, no current concerns

Line Report

The spread for this contest has fluctuated between Cleveland Browns +1 to its current mark of Browns +2.5. The line for this matchup has moved around more than nearly any other on the Week 1 slate.

The total has gone through similar small jumps between 47.5 to 48.5, and then back down to its current mark of 47.5.

Browns Offense vs. Bengals Defense

Browns running back Nick Chubb is one of the best pure runners in the league and benefits from playing behind Cleveland’s premium offensive line. Against the Cincinnati Bengals last season, Chubb exceeded 100 yards on the ground once, with just 34 yards in their other matchup. That level of variance against a division rival makes Chubb a player to avoid in prop markets this week.

Cleveland’s running game is one of the best in the league, but ultimately the Browns' success boils down to Deshaun Watson. We’ve said it all offseason, if the 2020 version of Watson returns, Cleveland is a title contender. But if what we saw last year is Watson’s new reality, he’s a below-average quarterback. 

Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore and Donovan Peoples-Jones each have neutral matchups with some game-script-related upside.

Dynamic tight end David Njoku, however, faces a Bengals defense that allowed the seventh-most receiving yards to tight ends last year. Njoku was coming off an injury when the Browns faced the Bengals for the first time last season. In their second matchup, with Watson at quarterback, Njoku had seven receptions for 59 yards and a score.

Bengals Offense vs. Browns Defense

Joe Burrow was extended before the Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs kicked off the season on Thursday night. Now that Burrow has been paid, he has the opportunity to return and play alongside what could be the best offensive supporting cast he plays with for the rest of his career.

Ja’Marr Chase missed five games last season, but he actually led the league in targets per game with 11.2. In Chase’s lone matchup with Cleveland, he had 10 receptions on 15 targets for 119 yards and a score. Treat Chase as one of the most matchup-proof pass catchers in football.

Cleveland allowed the fifth-fewest receiving yards to wide receivers last season, but cornerback Denzel Ward has injury uncertainty heading into the opener. Ward would be a big loss for Cleveland against one of the league’s best wide receiver groups.

If Ward plays, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Irv Smith Jr. will each be in neutral matchups that have some game-script-dependent upside. If Ward sits, Higgins specifically has enhanced upside.

The Browns and Bengals both made improvements this offseason to their respective lines. The Browns added significant talent to their front four in edge Za’Darius Smith and DT Dalvin Tomlinson. The Bengals added LT Orlando Brown Jr., which pushes Jonah Williams to RT. Consider this a strength vs. strength trench matchup.

Cleveland allowed the fifth-most rushing yards to running backs last season. Joe Mixon looked like a declining talent last year, but he’s positioned for a bell cow role in Cincinnati’s thin running back room. Mixon ran for 96 and 27 yards in his two matchups against the Browns in 2022. 

What To Bet On

If you’re betting on the Browns, you are primarily betting on Watson to be better than he was last season. We were interested in leaning into Watson’s upside in fantasy football at a reduced cost. The pick was an upside play, one which we knew could fail. For the purpose of betting on an individual game, the simple truth is we won’t know who Watson is as a quarterback until this game kicks off.

The Browns can certainly beat their division rivals, as they split with them last year. But ultimately, it’s wise to take a wait-and-see approach with Watson early this season.

Burrow is an MVP favorite supported by a top-10 offensive line and one of the best wide receiver trios in football. Whenever you’re betting on the Bengals, you’re doing so knowing that Burrow can torch any defense and that no lead is safe against Cincinnati.

The Bengals' defense is mediocre from a talent perspective, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo gets the best out of this group. A Bengals bet is also a bet on Anarumo, against Watson.

Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Browns 20

Ryan’s Recent Betting Record

ATS 2021: 49-31

ATS 2022: 48-32

Props 2022: 60-40

Ryan Reynolds is the associate director of fantasy and betting at The 33rd Team. He has watched every snap of every NFL game since 2014 and has been covering NFL betting markets for five years. Follow Ryan @RyanReynoldsNFL on TwitterInstagram or Facebook.