Houston Texans (0-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)
When I saw this line was -3 in favor of the Bengals last week, I thought about locking in the pick a week in advance. Three points is usually the standard adjustment for homefield advantage, so that line suggested these two teams were about even. I had Cincinnati 4 wins better than the Texans in my season previews and several spots ahead of them in my rankings, so -3 would have been a great value. Non-divisional home favorites also tend to cover on Thursday nights because it’s tough for an inferior team to travel on a short week and face a relatively unfamiliar opponent. Teams are 27-13 ATS all-time as non-divisional home favorites on Thursday Night when both teams are on short weeks (excluding week 1 and games with teams coming off byes).
This line has since moved to 5, so I am kicking myself for not locking it in at 3. Both teams looked bad last week, with the Bengals getting shutout at home by Ravens and the Texans getting sacked 10 times in a home loss to the Jaguars, but the oddsmakers clearly thought Houston’s performance was much more concerning, hence the line movement. I agree the Bengals have a much better chance of making week 1 look like a fluke than the Texans, but we still lose significant value with that line movement.
We are still getting some value with the Bengals though. I thought they were the clearly better team coming into the season and now Cincinnati gets cornerback Adam Jones back from suspension and possibly safety Shawn Williams and wide receiver John Ross back from injury, while Texans will likely be without middle linebacker Brian Cushing, right guard Jeff Allen, and their top-3 tight ends due to injury. That’s in addition to #2 wide receiver Will Fuller still being out with a broken collarbone and left tackle Duane Brown continuing to hold out.
Another wrinkle in this matchup is the Texans benching quarterback Tom Savage for first round rookie Deshaun Watson at halftime of last week’s loss. Watson was expected to take over for Savage at some point this season, but the Texans probably didn’t want to have to turn to him after just two quarters, so it’s fair to question his readiness, especially since he has to go on the road on a short week and face an above average defense. His second half performance last week was uninspiring and his mobility could be limited after suffering an ankle injury towards the end of the game last week.
That could prove to be a significant injury because his mobility is probably his best asset at this point, especially given how little time this offensive line figures to give him in the pocket. Without Brown and Allen, arguably their best two offensive lineman, the Texans probably have the worst offensive line in football. They also don’t have anything resembling a capable #2 receiving option after DeAndre Hopkins and will likely have to start a practice squad player at tight end. All this inexperience on the road on a short week could prove to be a major problem against a more established Cincinnati team and it’s really unclear how they plan on moving the ball.
The Bengals are getting healthier and should bounce back and win this game pretty easily, but 30% of games are decided by 4 points or less, so it’s tough to be really confident in Cincinnati as 5 point favorites, especially since the Texans’ defensive line should dominate the Bengals’ weak offensive line and could single handedly keep them in this game if they can give Andy Dalton trouble in the pocket. I still give the Bengals’ offensive line a better chance against Houston’s defensive line than I give the Texans’ offensive line against Cincinnati’s defensive line though. This is a low confidence pick which could become a medium confidence pick if the lines moves in a favorable direction.
Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.
CLE +7.5 @ BAL (I’d take +7 too)
PHI +5 @ KC (I’d take this one down to +4)
WAS +3 @ LAR
Cincinnati Bengals 17 Houston Texans 9
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati -5