Cincinnati Bengals (8-1) at Arizona Cardinals (7-2)
This line has shifted significantly in the past week, as the Cardinals were favored by 3 on the early line last week, but now are favored by 4.5, following the Cardinals’ big win in Seattle and the Bengals’ home loss to the mediocre Houston Texans. Considering about 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer, that shift is significant. Ordinarily, I like to go against significant line movements, because they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play, but I actually think this line is still too low.
Despite the fact that the Bengals only have one loss and the Cardinals have two, the Cardinals are a noticeably better team. In their 2 losses, they won the first down battle by a combined 20 first downs and only lost because they had a -3 turnover margin in both games. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. On average, teams that have a -3 turnover margin in a game have a +0.1 turnover margin the following game. That’s why I don’t really like to use turnover margin as evidence to support an evaluation of a team. The Cardinals, despite a couple losses, have been really dominant through their first 9 games, putting up a +117 point differential, despite just a +1 turnover margin on the season. The Bengals are +83 with a +3 turnover margin.
The Cardinals rank 1st in rate of moving the chains differential, while the Bengals “only” rank 3rd and by a significant margin, -3.48%. The Bengals might be the toughest opponent the Cardinals have faced this season, but I think the same can be said vice versa about the other side. Neither of these teams has really faced anyone tougher than the Seahawks. While the Cardinals beat the Seahawks by 7 in Seattle and won the first down battle 30-18, the Bengals needed a major comeback and overtime to beat the Seahawks in Cincinnati.
The Cardinals are a significantly better team, especially with the Bengals missing cornerback Adam Jones and defensive end Michael Johnson with injury. They’re also in a better spot, with a trip to San Francisco on deck. The early line has them as favored by 8 in San Francisco and teams are 29-13 ATS before being 7+ point road favorites since 2012. On top of that, teams are 79-41 ATS as 6+ point favorites before being 6+ point favorites since 2012. The Cardinals obviously aren’t favored by 6+ here, but they should be and the logic still holds. Significantly better teams tend to win big when they don’t have an upcoming distraction. I wish this line was 4 or lower because about 28.8% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, but the Cardinals are definitely the right side this week. It’s just not Pick of the Week material out of fear of a backdoor cover.
Arizona Cardinals 23 Cincinnati Bengals 13
Pick against the spread: Arizona -4.5