Dec 172013
 

Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)

The Bengals lost last week pretty convincingly in Pittsburgh in a surprise loss that really shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to anyone. The Bengals just aren’t the same team on the road. They’ve already lost pretty convincingly on the road to Cleveland and Baltimore (the Bengals needed an improbable Hail Mary to even send it to overtime), but they blew out the Browns in Cincinnati, in addition to the Steelers.

On the road, they are 2-5-1 ATS on the season, 3-5 straight up, and have a -16 point differential. Compare that to at home, where they are 6-0 ATS and straight up and have a +96 point differential, good for an average margin of victory of 16.00 points per game. That includes wins over New England, Indianapolis, and the Aaron Rodgers led Packers. Only one of their home games was within a touchdown (Green Bay). The fact that we are getting Cincinnati as mere touchdown favorites over the mediocre Vikings is a gift and an overreaction to a predictable Cincinnati road loss and a Minnesota home win against the Eagles. This line was at 9.5 a week ago. That’s a huge line movement.

Minnesota’s win over the Eagles was legitimate. It wasn’t fluky or anything. However, this line movement is ridiculous. Teams tend to struggle as road underdogs off of a win as big home underdogs, going 39-55 ATS as road underdogs after a win as home underdogs of 6 or more. That was an emotional upset win for the Vikings and it created a huge overreaction line movement. On top of that, teams are 18-27 ATS off of a win as home underdogs when their opponent is coming off of a loss as road favorites. We’re getting a good amount of line value with the Bengals as a result of what happened last week.

Even if this line was at 9.5 still, we’d be getting line value with the Bengals, who are one of the game’s elite teams because of their defense. Their offense is nothing special, moving the chains at a slightly above average 72.81% rate, but their defense is one of the best in the NFL, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 67.15% rate. Even last week, the Steelers needed a fluky punt return touchdown to propel them to victory. That differential of 5.66% is the 6th best in the NFL and that doesn’t even take into account how much better the Bengals are here at home.

The Vikings, meanwhile, remain a mediocre team. Their offense is fine, moving the chains at a 71.40% rate, but their opponents move the chains at a 76.06% rate against their defense, which is one of the worst in the NFL. Their -4.67% differential is 27th in the NFL. Given that, this line should be somewhere around 13 or 13.5, before you even take into account that the Bengals win the average home game by 16 points per game. This line is way too low.

The Vikings are also in a couple of bad spots here as they have another big game against the Lions up next, which could keep them from being as focused as they need to be for this one. Teams are 53-79 ATS since 2002 as non-divisional road underdogs before being divisional home underdogs. The Vikings will almost certainly be underdogs at home for the Lions next week. They were 6.5 point underdogs for the Eagles and the week before the odds makers agreed that the Lions and Eagles were basically even, making the Lions 2 point underdogs in Philadelphia. Things have changed since, but not enough to make the Vikings home favorites for the Lions. Also if the Vikings are going to be underdogs of 3 or more next week, which is very possible, they’re in even more trouble, as teams are 37-67 ATS before being home underdogs of 3 or more since 2012.

There’s one reason I didn’t make this my Pick of the Week. I considered it. I really liked the Bengals and the Patriots a lot this week and almost made this my Pick of the Week and the Patriots just a high confidence pick because of Baltimore’s home dominance, but I decided against it for one reason. Matt Cassel is playing very solid football this year, since taking over as the starter, completing 61.9% of his passes for an average of 7.75 YPA, 9 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions.

As a result, the Vikings have won 2 of their last 3, with those wins coming against current division leaders Philadelphia and Chicago, with the loss coming by a field goal in Baltimore, a very tough place to win. However, I don’t think this is sustainable. He’ll have to come back down to Earth eventually and what better place to do so then on the road against a very tough Bengals defense in a very tough place to not only win, but even keep it close. It’s enough to keep this from being a Pick of the Week, but I still really like the Bengals this week.

Cincinnati Bengals 27 Minnesota Vikings 10

Pick against spread: Cincinnati -7

Confidence: High

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