AP Pro Football Writer
The schedule maker couldn’t have been less kind to the Browns.
Cleveland hasn’t had much go right recently, losers of five of the past six, with a banged-up quarterback Josh McCown out — Johnny Manziel will start — and two key defensive backs, Joe Haden and Donte Whitner, having been concussed. The Browns might be short-handed at wide receiver, too.
And now, on Thursday, they head into the Jungle to face the unbeaten Bengals, who come off a signature victory at Pittsburgh.
“I would definitely say it’s a little tough,” said Browns DB Tashaun Gipson. “It’s a little different. You would ideally like to be coming off of a victory going into a short week, but that’s what we get paid for: to be professionals. You just have to put each game behind you win, lose or draw. Each opponent is different and each outcome could potentially be different.”
Potentially. But hardly likely as Cincinnati takes aim not only on an AFC North crown, but the top record in the conference.
“We have put ourselves in a really good position,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “When you look at the schedule, you want to win every game that you play, and we have been able to do that so far. We just have to keep the same mentality that we have had and we will be in good shape.”
Cincinnati (tied for No. 2, AP Pro32), is an 11-point favorite against in-state rival Cleveland (No. 27) on Thursday night. Doesn’t matter when they play this one, Bengals will cruise.
KNOCKOUT LEAGUE TIP: For what it’s worth — and not much after Pro Picks advised to take Atlanta for a survivor pool last week — at least the Falcons got to OT before losing. This week’s choice is Cincinnati.
No. 5 Green Bay (plus 2 1-2) at No. 4 Carolina
Going for double dose here, expecting Packers to bounce back in style after Denver debacle.
BEST BET, UPSET SPECIAL: PACKERS, 23-20
No. 21 Washington (plus 14) at No. 1 New England
Some division leaders might yawn their way through such a matchup. Patriots will romp.
No. 2 (tie) Denver (minus 4 1-2) at No. 18 Indianapolis
Once everyone gets past all that Peyton returns to Indy drama, Broncos will remain unbeaten.
No. 11 Oakland (plus 4 1-2) at No. 14 Pittsburgh
Raiders win marks them as true wild-card contender. Not yet …
No. 16 Philadelphia (minus 3) at No. 22 Dallas
Cowboys running out of time for elusive wins before Romo returns. Won’t get one here, either.
No. 10 St. Louis (plus 2 1-2) at No. 7 Minnesota
Two teams on rise in intriguing game that could stamp winner as contender.
No. 17 Miami (plus 3) at No. 19 Buffalo
Do we judge Dolphins by first two wins under Dan Campbell or by loss to Patriots? The answer …
No. 15 New York Giants (minus 2 1-2) at No. 23 Tampa Bay
Giants won’t score 49 again. They won’t need to. And they will win this time.
No. 28 Chicago (plus 4) at No. 25 San Diego, Monday night
Chargers are bruised, battered mess. So are Bears. Hardly a prime-time matchup.
No. 9 Atlanta (minus 7) at No. 30 San Francisco
Falcons’ offense can’t be so bad two weeks in a row.
No. 29 Jacksonville (OFF) at No. 12 New York Jets
Jets’ defense can’t be so bad two weeks in a row.
No. 32 Tennessee (OFF) at No. 13 New Orleans
A Big Easy for the hot Saints with Titans in turmoil.
2015 RECORD: Against spread: Week 9-3-1, Season (62-49-3). Straight up: Week 9-5, Season (78-41)
Best Bet: 5-3 against spread, 6-2 straight up.
Upset special: 4-4 against spread, 2-6 straight up.