Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)
This line was all the way up to 6 earlier this week, before heavy sharp action on the Bengals bet the line all the way down to 3.5. While I obviously would have preferred 6, we are still getting line value with the Bengals at 3.5. This line suggests that the Falcons are slightly better than the Bengals, but I think that’s backwards. Coming into the season, the Falcons were one of the most talented teams in the league, but they’ve been hit by injuries as hard as anyone early in the season.
Already without top linebacker Deion Jones and top safety Keanu Neal, the Falcons’ defense will now be without their other starting safety Ricardo Allen for the season after he tore his achilles last week. They’ve been one of the worst defensive teams in the league this year (42.23% first down rate allowed, 29th in the NFL) and they’re unlikely to get significantly better any time soon without a major addition. On offense, left guard Andy Levitre is out for the year, while lead back Devonta Freeman will miss at least another week with a knee injury.
The Bengals have players missing too, including suspended linebacker Vontaze Burfict, injured running back Joe Mixon, and injured center Billy Price, but they enter the game with the 4th best first down rate differential in the NFL. They lost their first game without Mixon and Price last week in Carolina, but their offense wasn’t really the problem, as they topped a 40% first down rate for the 3rd week in a row, joining the Rams and the Chiefs as the only teams to do that. In fact, they won the first down battle 25 to 23 last week, losing by 10 primarily because of a -4 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Bengals aren’t more likely to lose the turnover battle this week as a result of losing it last week.
Burfict will be a big re-addition to an already solid defense next week and Price and Mixon were big parts of their offense before going down, but even without them they still have an improved offensive line and significantly improved skill position talent compared to last season. The Bengals are also in a better spot. While the Falcons have to turn around and go to Pittsburgh next week, where they will be underdogs, the Bengals will be favorites at home for Miami. Underdogs are 120-72 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. This isn’t a huge play, but the Bengals should be the right side.
Atlanta Falcons 31 Cincinnati Bengals 30
Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5