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In-Depth Prediction, Preview, and Odds

Bengals vs. Browns Prediction

Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 8:20pm EDT
FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
#101 Cincinnati Bengals 46 vs. #102 Cleveland Browns -6

In-depth Coverage

This is an in-depth analysis of this game, covering every possible detail and angle. Use the table of contents to navigate between each section, or just jump on in!

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Table of Contents

Last Updated: Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 2:11pm EDT

Introduction

It’s a showdown of AFC North teams from the Buckeye State kicking off week 2 of the NFL schedule from the shores of Lake Erie. The Cincinnati Bengals are on the road as they make the in-state trip on a short week to face the Cleveland Browns Thursday night. Cincinnati was edged 16-13 at home by the Chargers in their season opener Sunday afternoon to start the Joe Burrow era off on a disappointing note. Meanwhile, Cleveland was stomped 38-6 on the road by Baltimore in another AFC North matchup to open their season Sunday. In the all-time regular season series, the Bengals hold a 51-42 advantage. Last season, the teams split two meetings with the Browns prevailing 27-19 at home on December 8, 2019 and the Bengals earning a 33-23 home victory in the most recent matchup on December 29, 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals Review

Cincinnati went into Sunday’s season opener with some optimism that they had found their franchise quarterback in first overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. Behind some smart decision making, sound strategy and a questionable offensive game plan from the Chargers, the Bengals led most of the way in a low-scoring affair. Even after falling behind the first time all game in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati wasn’t out of it. Burrow, getting the ball back with 3:08 to play and his team down a field goal, went to work. All told, the Bengals covered 69 yards in 14 plays to get in position for a tying or go-ahead score, only to see things fall apart.

On that final drive, it looked like Burrow had rallied the Bengals to victory with a three-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with seven seconds to play. Instead, Green was flagged for offensive pass interference, moving the ball back to the 13-yard line. Still, the Bengals could kick the field goal and go to overtime but, as it turned out, Rodney Bullock shanked the kick wide right with two seconds remaining, sending the cardboard cutouts streaming to the exits in dismay. Cincinnati was outgained 362-295 in the contest while getting edged in time of possession by a 30:10 to 29:50 margin. Both teams had 19 first downs though the Bengals committed the lone two turnovers of the game, leading to three Chargers points which made the difference in the contest.

Cleveland Browns Review

Cleveland had high hopes for the start of the season with new coach Kevin Stefanski taking over the show in the offseason. Instead, it looked like the same old Browns, who continued to look completely inept in most facets of the game for long periods. They were hammered in blowout fashion as they never led in the game and only showed signs of life briefly late in the first quarter after the Ravens committed a turnover deep in Browns territory. On defense, the Browns couldn’t generate much in the way of big plays, while on offense, Baker Mayfield looked no better than he did for long stretches of the 2019 season.

The Browns were taken to the woodshed in the opener by Baltimore and the numbers bear that out. Cleveland was outgained 377-306 in the contest while losing the first down battle 23-20. The Browns held an edge in time of possession by a razor thin 30:02 to 29:58 margin but turned the ball over three times, leading to 17 Ravens points. Cleveland also turned the ball over on downs twice and missed a 41-yard field goal in addition to losing the first down battle 23-20. In a sign of how much the team struggled, Odell Beckham Jr. caught only three passes for 22 yards despite being targeted a team-high 10 times.

 

The Running Game

Cincinnati Bengals Running Offense
vs. Cleveland Browns Running Defense

Cincinnati Bengals Running Offense

Cincinnati tried to establish a ground game against the Chargers with some success, though they were helped by the mobility of their rookie quarterback. The Bengals will look to pound the rock in order to take some pressure off Burrow in the early part of the season for certain. As a team, Cincinnati ran the ball 28 times for 122 yards and their lone touchdown of the contest. That gave the Bengals a solid 4.4 yard per carry average in the game. If they can maintain a number similar to that, coach Zac Taylor will be pleased.

Joe Mixon led the team with 19 carries for 69 yards in the game. Joe Burrow added eight carries for 46 yards and a score while Giovani Bernard had one carry for seven yards. Burrow recorded the team’s lone run of more than 20 yards as he went for 23 yards on his touchdown run. Overall, the team finished with five first downs thanks to the ground game in the contest.

Cleveland Browns Run Defense

Cleveland did a solid job holding the Ravens’ explosive run game in check but the fact remains that they were still blown out of the water in the contest. The Browns are going to try and put the Bengals behind the sticks and force them to go to the air in order to give themselves a solid opportunity on the defensive side of the ball. Cleveland gave up just 107 yards on 30 carries against the Ravens for a 3.6-yard per carry average. Of course, the Browns weren’t completely unscathed as they allowed a pair of rushing scores to rookie J.K. Dobbins in his NFL debut.

B.J. Goodson leads the team with nine tackles (five solo) on the season. Sione Takitaki (seven tackles), Karl Joseph (five tackles), Tavierre Thomas (four tackles and Terrance Mitchell (four tackles) round out the top five on the team in that category. Adrian Clayborn (two tackles) and Larry Ogunjobi (four tackles, forced fumble) each have two tackles for the loss to share the team lead. Malcolm Smith (three tackles), Thomas, Vincent Taylor (two tackles) and Myles Garrett (one tackle, fumble recovery) each have one tackle for loss. As a team, the Browns have eight tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery on the season.

Stats

  • 19th in run play percentage (41.79 percent)
  • 16th in rushing attempts per game (28)
  • 17th in rushing yards per game (122)
  • 13th in yards per carry (4.4)
  • Tied for 10th in rushing TD (one)
  • Tied for 21st in longest rush (23 yards)

  • 29th in percentage of run plays against (51.72 percent)
  • 19th in run plays per game against (30)
  • 13th in rushing yards allowed per game (107)
  • 10th in opposing yards per carry (3.6)
  • Tied for 24th in rushing TD allowed (two)
  • Tied for 13th in longest rush allowed (16 yards)

Who has the Edge?

Cleveland did a fairly good job bottling up the Ravens' run game as Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards and Dobbins struggled to generate big yards per carry. The Browns were hurt by the running of Jackson, which is a big part of his game. Burrow showed that he can do damage with his legs in the opener, running for 46 yards and a score. Mixon has to do a better job of finding holes and gaining positive yardage as he didn't crack the four yard per carry barrier in the opener. This one is close but given the Browns' ability to contain the Ravens, you have to give them the upper hand in this department.

Advantage: Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns Running Offense
vs. Cincinnati Bengals Running Defense

Cleveland Browns Running Offense

Cleveland has a pretty good duo of running backs to work with, though game flow made them not use the run as much as they would have liked to in the opener. The Browns are going to have to try and control the clock a bit more and be more effective at making plays to have success. Cleveland did manage to run the ball 27 times in the game for a total of 138 yards. That gave them a 5.1-yard per carry average, though they were hurt by fumbling the ball three times, losing a pair of them in the process.

Kareem Hunt leads the Browns on the ground as he has run the ball 13 times for 72 yards in the contest. Nick Chubb, who was second in the league in rushing last season, got only 10 carries for 60 yards. D’Ernest Johnson had one carry for five yards, Baker Mayfield added two carries for three yards and punter Jamie Gillan lost two yards on his lone attempt in the contest. Hunt and Chubb each had one run go for more than 20 yards with Chubb’s 29-yard effort the team’s long run on the day. The Browns moved the sticks six times via the ground game in the contest.

Cincinnati Bengals Run Defense

Cincinnati did their best to keep the run game in check in their opener though they were helped by a questionable Chargers game plan that saw Tyrod Taylor throwing the ball more than anyone would have anticipated. The Bengals saw the Chargers change things up in the second half and Cincinnati couldn’t answer the bell as the combination of Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley got the better of them. When all was said and done, the Bengals gave up 39 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown on the ground. That was a four yard per carry average in the game.

Germain Pratt leads the Bengals with 12 tackles (seven solo) on the season. Sam Hubbard (nine tackles), Vonn Bell (eight tackles), Josh Bynes (eight tackles) and Jessie Bates III (five tackles) round out the top five in the stops department. Bynes leads the team with 1.5 tackles for loss while Hubbard and Carl Lawson (five tackles) each have one tackle for loss. Christian Covington (three tackles) had the other half-tackle for loss for Cincinnati. As a team, the Bengals recorded four tackles for loss without forcing or recovering a fumble in the contest. Generating turnovers is something that the Bengals are going to have to work on going forward.

Stats

  • 23rd in run play percentage (39.71 percent)
  • 18th in rushing attempts per game (27)
  • 9th in rushing yards per game (138)
  • 5th in yards per carry (5.1)
  • Tied for 25th in rushing TD (zero)
  • 2nd in longest rush (29 yards)

  • 30th in percentage of run plays against (54.93 percent)
  • 30th in run plays per game against (39)
  • 28th in rushing yards allowed per game (155)
  • 14th in opposing yards per carry (four)
  • Tied for 9th in rushing TD allowed (one)
  • 28th in longest rush allowed (26 yards)

Who has the Edge?

With Chubb and Hunt, the Browns have a dynamic 1-2 punch on the ground that can wear defenses down. The problem for Cleveland is that they can't go down multiple scores like they did early against Baltimore if they hope to utilize that strategy. We saw Cincinnati's defense wear down in the second half as the Chargers deployed more of the run game with Kelley and Ekeler, using it to their advantage as opposed to having Taylor try to beat them with his arm. The Bengals were gouged, especially in the second half of the game, and that helped set the tone for what unfolded. You have to think Chubb and Hunt will be more involved, giving the Browns the edge here.

Advantage: Cleveland Browns

The Passing Game

Cincinnati Bengals Passing Offense
vs. Cleveland Browns Passing Defense

Cincinnati Bengals Passing Offense

Cincinnati relied on a quick-hitting pass attack, giving Burrow an opportunity to get his feet wet with a lot of three-step drops. Some of that is attributed to the fact that he was a rookie making his first career NFL start while some of that can be attributed to a very good Chargers pass rush in the opener. As it turned out, Burrow didn’t make many mistakes in the contest. He didn’t make many big plays either, with perhaps the biggest, the potential game-winning touchdown pass to A.J. Green, was wiped out by offensive pass interference.

Burrow completed 23 of 36 passes for 193 yards with no touchdown passes and one interception. He was sacked three times for 20 yards in losses in the contest. A.J. Green, who had missed 23 of the team’s past 24 games, led the team with five catches for 51 yards. C.J. Uzomah (45 yards), Tyler Boyd (33 yards) and Giovani Bernard (21 yards) each had four catches in the contest. The Bengals have yet to hit a pass play that covered more than 20 yards as their longest reception was a 19-yard pass play to Uzomah. Cincinnati moved the chains 14 times via the air in the contest.

Cleveland Browns Passing Defense

For as solid a job the Browns did keeping the run game in check for the Ravens in the opener, they should a complete inability to do much of anything to slow Baltimore down through the air. Cleveland was torched early and often as Lamar Jackson made them look like they weren’t even there. The Browns gave up 284 yards and three scores through the air in the game. Cleveland gave up a staggering 150.6 QB rating in the game against the Ravens, which is galling considering a perfect rating is 158.3 in that category. The Browns are going to have to do a better job in the secondary in order to keep them in games.

Thomas and Clayborn each recorded one sack to share the team lead on the season. The Browns failed to record a pass defense or an interception in the game. Cleveland can’t let teams complete better than 80 percent of their throws as the Ravens did or else they are going to be carved up on a weekly basis.

Stats

  • 14th in pass play percentage (58.21 percent)
  • 21st in completion percentage (63.9)
  • 28th in passing yards per game (173)
  • Tied for 28th in TD passes (zero)
  • Tied for 19th in INT thrown (one)
  • 31st in net yards per pass attempt (4.8)
  • Tied for 31st in longest pass play (19 yards)
  • 30th in passer rating (66.1)

  • 4th in pass play percentage against (48.28 percent)
  • 26th in passing yards per game allowed (270)
  • 30th in completion percentage allowed (80.8)
  • Tied for 26th in TD passes allowed (three)
  • Tied for 15th in INT (zero)
  • Tied for 13th in sacks (two)
  • 32nd in passer rating allowed (150.6)
  • 32nd in net yards per pass attempt (10.4)

Who has the Edge?

While Burrow wasn't asked to do a lot in the passing game in the opening game of the season and the first start of his career, we know he has the ability to make plays with his arm. With Green and Boyd as his two top receivers, the potential for big plays are there if Taylor gives him the opportunity to open up the playbook. Cleveland looked like a train wreck in pass defense in the opener as receivers were running free and getting open seemingly at will at times. Their inability to contain Hollywood Brown and Mark Andrews did little to inspire confidence. Neither did generating a total of two sacks against a Baltimore offensive line that lost Marshall Yanda to retirement. It's a slight edge given that we haven't seen a ton from the Bengals' passing game but Cleveland's defense was bad enough to put that aside.

Advantage: Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns Passing Offense
vs. Cincinnati Bengals Passing Defense

Cleveland Browns Passing Offense

Cleveland had to throw more often than they likely would have liked but the problem was, they weren’t overly effective with the passing game. The Browns are going to have to be better moving the chains with the passing game, and that includes Baker Mayfield being more accurate when it comes to being on target with his throws. Cleveland has plenty of weapons to work with, though that group drops by one with an injury this week, but they have to get on the same page in order for the team to have success.

Mayfield hit only 21 of 39 passes for 189 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the opener. He was sacked twice, losing 21 yards in the process. When it came to completing passes, Jarvis Landry was his top receiver with five catches for 61 yards. Hunt caught four balls out of the backfield for nine yards while David Njoku reeled in three passes for 50 yards and a score. Odell Beckham Jr. had three catches for 22 yards despite being targeted a team-high 10 times. The Browns have to get more from Austin Hooper, who caught two passes for 15 yards. Njoku had two receptions of at least 20 yards while Landry had the other. As a team, the Browns have three pass plays covering at least 20 yards and have moved the sticks 10 times. Njoku was placed on injured reserve with a sprained MCL on Monday.

There were some rumors earlier this week that Beckham was seeking a trade after the first game. He had a poor game and also dropped a pass against the Ravens. That was the fourth time in 17 games with Cleveland that had games in the 20s in terms of receiving yards. He's also had six games out of 17 where he had three catches or fewer. That can't all be his fault considering he played with a potential Hall of Fame quarterback in Eli Manning with the New York Giants and Mayfield hasn't been close to achieving that status with the Browns.

"Obviously, Sunday wasn’t what we wanted ... but more game reps will be the way to go,'' Beckham said on a Zoom conference Tuesday.

Cincinnati Bengals Passing Defense

Cincinnati faced a Chargers offense that has plenty of capable weapons but with an inconsistent quarterback, Los Angeles didn’t do as much damage as they could have against the Bengals’ defense. The Bengals gave up several big pass plays that chewed up big chunks of yardage and that is something that they have to be able to contain if they want to give themselves a chance to win going forward. Cincinnati allowed 208 yards through the air though they limited Tyrod Taylor to completing 16 of his 30 passes in the game with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Carl Lawson and Josh Bynes each recorded a sack in the game to share the team lead after the opening week of the season. William Jackson III (four tackles) and Jessie Bates III (five tackles) each have two pass defenses to share the team lead. Darius Phillips (two tackles) has one pass defense to his credit. The team has yet to generate an interception. Cincinnati has two sacks, five pass defenses and no interceptions on the ledger this season. The Bengals did give up three pass plays of at least 20 yards in the contest.

Stats

  • 10th in pass play percentage (63.29 percent)
  • 31st in completion percentage (53.9)
  • 29th in passing yards per game (168)
  • Tied for 17th in TD passes (one)
  • Tied for 19th in INT thrown (one)
  • 32nd in net yards per pass attempt (4.3)
  • Tied for 23rd in longest pass play (28 yards)
  • 16th in passer rating (89.7)

  • 3rd in pass play percentage against (45.07 percent)
  • 10th in passing yards per game allowed (207)
  • 1st in completion percentage allowed (53.3)
  • Tied for 1st in TD passes allowed (zero)
  • Tied for 14th in INT (zero)
  • Tied for 13th in sacks (two)
  • 6th in passer rating allowed (75.4)
  • 19th in net yards per pass attempt (6.9)

Who has the Edge?

Mayfield looked awful in the opener as he couldn't develop any rapport with his receivers. Some of that may be because of the Ravens' excellent secondary but some of it was just bad quarterback play. That could prove to be an issue against a Bengals' secondary that more than held their own in the opening game of the season, recording the league's best completion percentage against in addition to a solid QB rating. Cincinnati doesn't get a ton of heat on opposing quarterbacks but the Browns showed that a team doesn't need to in order for them to self-destruct. The Bengals looked good defensively in the opener and that gives them the edge here.

Advantage: Cincinnati Bengals

Intangibles

Cincinnati Bengals

Randy Bullock hit his lone extra-point attempt and two of three field goals on the season. He connected from 50 and 43 yards though he pulled a potential game-tying kick from 31 yards in the final seconds. He also apparently injured his calf or calves in the process. Kevin Huber has punted six times with a 55-yard average on the season, though his net average is 43.8 yards per boot. He placed three punts inside the 20 but also had three touchbacks. Brandon Wilson ran back one kickoff for 44 yards while Alex Erickson has averaged 14.5 yards on two punt returns with a long of 22 on the season. The Bengals did sign Browns kicker Austin Seibert on Tuesday as insurance, after he was released on Monday. Seibert was a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and made 25 of 29 kicks last season, but was just 30 of 35 on his extra-point attempts (86.2%). But according to recent reports, Bullock will be healthy enough to kick on Thursday night.

Taylor is in his second season as an NFL head coach and the first season was a lost cause thanks to injuries and poor play. His career record as a head coach is just 2-15 so clearly there is something to be desired when it comes to getting results. Brian Callahan is back for his second year as offensive coordinator while Lou Anarumo is in his second season as the defensive coordinator. There is hope that this group can help turn things around for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015 and last won a playoff game back in 1990.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland has had a change in special teams personnel already this season. Austin Seibert missed his lone extra point attempt and his lone field goal try in the opener. As a result, he was cut loose Monday, and the team brought in Cody Parkey, most famous for the “double-doink” kick that sunk the Bears in the playoffs a couple years ago, to take over the job. Gillan punted three times with a 45.7-yard average, though his net average drops to 37 yards per kick on the year. He dropped one punt inside the 20-yard line with no touchbacks though the opposition averaged 13 yards on two punt returns. JoJo Natson didn’t return a kickoff and had one punt return for one yard.

Kevin Stefanski was blown out in his head coaching debut with the team in the opener. Prior to that, he was an assistant with the Vikings from 2006-08, then an assistant QB coach from 2009-13. He coached tight ends in 2014 and 2015 before taking over the running backs in 2016. In 2017 and 18, Stefanski was the QB coach before taking the reins as offensive coordinator for Minnesota in 2019. He has Alex Van Pelt as offensive coordinator and Joe Woods as the defensive coordinator. The heat is on to try and get the Browns back to the postseason for the first time since the 2002 season.

Who has the Edge?

There isn't a lot to be thrilled about on either side in this category. The two head coaches are a combined 2-16 as the leader of their respective teams and combined for only 22 points in the season's opening week. Neither special teams group impressed as Bullock missed a short field goal that would have forced overtime, while Seibert missed a field goal and an extra point. As a result, he's no longer employed with the Browns, leaving Parkey to take over the kicking duties. In the return game, we saw the Bengals have a distinct advantage and their punter didn't commit a turnover, though he did have three touchbacks on his six punts, hurting his net average. There's really nothing that moves the needle enough either way to convince me that there is a distinct advantage for either side here.

Advantage: Push

Final Outlook

We saw two distinctly different results in the opening week of the season, though they were both losses. Cincinnati went to the wire and nearly won the game in the final seconds only to be bitten by a flag that took the winning touchdown off the board. Instead, they missed a field goal that would have forced overtime and sent them to defeat. Would they have won in the extra session? No one knows for sure but the fact remains that they would have loved the chance to find out. Cleveland was schmaltzed as they were beaten into the ground in every facet of the game. The Browns were abysmal and for the talent they have on the roster, they seem disjointed, disorganized and dismal. Stefanski was only an offensive coordinator for one season before getting the head coaching job here and hasn't really proven that he can run a franchise. The Bengals showed grit and nearly won the game against the Chargers. Cleveland hasn't shown much yet and that has me leaning toward the Bengals: take the points here with Cincinnati as Burrow gets his first career win.

Latest Updates, Injury Reports, and Line Movements

There are some key pieces missing for both teams heading into this contest and that could impact things a bit. Cincinnati moved guard Xavier Su'a-Filo to injured reserve, which will create a hole on the offensive line. That means Shaq Calhoun will be in the starting lineup instead. In addition to that, the Bengals will be without Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels at the defensive tackle position. That means Christian Covington gets a chance to make an impact in the middle of the defensive front. Missing Atkins is a blow as he is a major disruptor in the middle, both in blowing up run plays and in getting pressure on the quarterback. Shawn Williams is also out, taking a valuable nickel back out of the mix and pushing Brandon Wilson perhaps into a deeper role if the Bengals go to a three-safety system.

Cleveland is missing some pieces of their own in this contest. The Browns have some secondary issues as starting corner Greedy Williams is out for this one, as is nickel corner Kevin Johnson. That is going to push either Terrance Mitchell or Tavierre Thomas into the starting role opposite Denzel Ward with the other likely being the nickel back. Starting weakside linebacker Mack Wilson is out, putting Malcolm Smith in the spotlight there. In addition, backup strongside linebacker Jacob Phillips is out, thinning the depth there for the Browns. Both starting tackles for the Browns, Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr., are questionable, as is backup tackle Chris Hubbard. Center JC Tretter is also questionable, as is receiver Jarvis Landry and starting defensive end Olivier Vernon. That's going to potentially impede Cleveland's offensive attack with three-fifths of their starting offensive line banged up.

The weather shouldn't be a factor in this contest. Game-time temperature is expected to be in the mid-60s under mostly clear skies. There is no real threat of precipitation in the forecast for this contest, which means that the conditions are pretty optimal for the offenses. Winds could play a bit of a factor as they are forecast to come from the north-northeast at 10 to 15 miles per hour with potential gusts near 20 miles an hour.

The initial line for this contest saw Cleveland favored by 8.5 points when they came out with the over/under set at 46 points. Since that point in time, the line has dropped to Cleveland as a 6-point favorite and held there the last couple of days. Meanwhile, the over/under has trended in a downward direction as it currently sits at 43.5 points. Initially, the moneyline had Cleveland as a -360 favorite while Cincinnati was going off as a +280 underdog. That has shifted as well as the Browns are now at -260 while the Bengals are at +220 in that category. As it stands, 57 percent of the bets are taking the Bengals +6 points. A narrow majority, 52 percent, is backing the Bengals when it comes to bets on the moneyline. That same slight majority, 52 percent, are leaning toward this one going over the total.

Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals +6

Second Opinion on this pick from StatSalt.com

All predictions are made well in advance of game time. Don't bet this pick before calling the free Winners And Whiners update line to make sure the pick is still good (recorded message): 1-213-205-3114

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One thing that we saw in the opener is that both teams had serious issues when it came to putting points on the board. Cincinnati cracked the double-digit mark as they finished with 13 points while Cleveland was the league's lowest-scoring team in week one. The Bengals fell well under the total in week 1 as their game had a combined 29 points. Meanwhile, Cleveland saw a total of 44 points in their opener but they only put up six of them. These teams have combined to see the over go 4-0-1 in their last five meetings but it's hard to see that kind of offensive production in this one. Until we see more production from either of these offenses, you have to lean toward this one staying short of the number, especially on a short week coming out of losses.

Prediction: Under 43.5
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Written By Chris Kubala

Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in-depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. Now he is writing for our team here at Winners @ Whiners. Chris keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college. He is also very knowledgeable in the NHL, the NBA, college basketball and MLB. If you want consistency, then be sure and check out Chris’ content daily.