Detroit Lions (8-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-9)
Since blowing a 20-10 4th quarter lead against the Steelers in week 13, the Bengals have lost back-to-back games against the Bears and Vikings by a combined 53 points. However, they’ve dealt with a lot of injuries over those last two games, particularly on defense, where they have been without stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Now healthier, I like the Bengals’ chances of bouncing back this week. Teams tend to bounce back after back-to-back blowout losses anyway, going 47-32 ATS since 2002 after two straight losses by 21 or more points.
It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense, as teams tend to be overlooked, underrated, and embarrassed after back-to-back bad showings. I can’t 100% guarantee that the Bengals will be overlooked or embarrassed this week, but they definitely appear underrated. This line was Detroit -1 a week ago, but now it’s Detroit -3.5, despite Burfict’s return. Two weeks ago, I think this line would have been Cincinnati -3, after their near win in Pittsburgh. About 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, so that’s a huge swing.
Even at Cincinnati -3, I might take the Bengals. The Lions are 8-6 and went 9-7 last season, but they didn’t beat a single playoff team in 2016 and have just one win against a team with a winning record in 2017. In addition to having a weak strength of victory, they also have a weak margin of victory, with their average win over the past 2 seasons coming by 7.12 points and 7 of 17 wins coming by a field goal or less, very relevant considering this line is 3.5. They just rank 27th in first down rate differential at -3.87%, after finishing last season 28th. The Bengals, meanwhile, rank 24th in that metric at -1.90%, despite two terrible performances in a row.
The Lions have good quarterback play and a strong passing game, but they can’t run the ball and they rank dead last in first down rate allowed. They are also very banged up on the offensive line right now. While the Bengals are getting healthier, the Lions will be without center Travis Swanson and right guard TJ Lang, while right tackle Ricky Wagner is highly questionable after missing last week’s game and being limited in practice all week this week. The Lions won last week at home against the Bears with a banged up offensive line, but that was a mere 10-point win, despite Mitch Trubisky throwing a trio of interceptions, including 2 in the red zone. Turnover margin is very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t be able to count on that in this one. I like the Bengals a lot at +3.5.
Cincinnati Bengals 23 Detroit Lions 20 Upset Pick +160
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5