Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1)

After narrowly escaping in Jacksonville week 11, the Steelers improved to 7-2-1 and looked to be in control of the AFC North, but they’ve lost 4 of 5 games since then and now need help to get into the post-season. Part of that is the schedule, as they’ve had to face the Chargers, Patriots, and Saints over that 5-game stretch, but they’ve also lost to the Broncos and Raiders and also nearly lost that game to the Jaguars, beating them by just 4 points on a last minute touchdown after being down double digits in the 4th quarter. On the season, the Steelers have just two wins that would cover this 15-point spread and they have just four such wins since week 5 of last season, with two of them coming at home on Thursday night against an unprepared opponent. They’ve frequently played down to the level of their competition.

The Steelers should be completely focused this week though, in a game they need to win to have a shot at the playoffs, and the Bengals are one of the worst teams in the league right now due to all of their injuries. That being said, I still think this line is a little high at 15. The Steelers have some key injuries as well, with Antonio Brown at less than 100% with a knee injury he suffered mid-week and with starting middle linebacker Vince Williams expected to be out. There’s not nearly enough here to be confident in Cincinnati, but they have a good shot at keeping it within two touchdowns.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +15

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) at Cleveland Browns (6-7-1)

It’s weird seeing the Browns as big favorites. Originally this line opened up at Cleveland -7, which didn’t make much sense. That line suggested the Browns are 4 points better than the Bengals on a neutral field, but when these two teams met earlier this year in Cincinnati, this was an even line, suggesting the Browns were 3 points better than the Bengals at the time. Given that the Bengals have lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton and were blown out in their previous matchup with the Browns, I would have expected the odds makers to have a bigger gap between these two teams this time around, but maybe they’re just not used to having the Browns favored by more than a touchdown, given that the last time that happened was 2010.

Unfortunately, Cleveland -7 disappeared pretty quickly, as heavy action came in on the Browns quickly and caused the oddsmakers to adjust. Now the Browns are favored by 9 points, most they’ve been favored by in a game since they were favored by 11.5 points against the 49ers in week 17 of the 2007 season. Even at Cleveland -9, I think this line is a little short, as I have the Browns calculated as 11-point favorites in this game.

That might sound crazy since it’s the Browns, but they’ve been playing legitimately good football since getting rid of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, going 4-2. Led by rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, their offense has moved the chains at a 41.59% rate in 6 games without Jackson and Haley, as opposed to 30.25% in 7 games prior. To put that in perspective, 41.59% would rank 5th in the NFL on the season, right behind the Rams, while 30.25% would rank 29th on the season, right behind the Jaguars. The Browns’ defense has also been better in recent weeks since getting linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury. Now they get top cornerback Denzel Ward back from a two game absence with a concussion and are close to full strength on both sides of the ball.

The Bengals, on the other hand, are going in the opposite direction and are nowhere close to full strength. I already mentioned they’re without their starting quarterback, but they’re also without their top-2 wide receivers AJ Green and Tyler Boyd and, even before losing those two, their offense hasn’t been the same since losing top tight end Tyler Eifert early in the season. They have a decent offensive line and running back Joe Mixon has been running well, but they really lack skill position talent on offense.

That’s a huge problem for the Bengals because their defense has been horrible all season, ranking 29th in first down rate allowed at 39.50%. They’re getting healthier, with every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict set to return this week from a 2-game absence, but he has struggled when on the field this season, so it’s unclear how much of a boost that really is. We’re not getting enough line value with the Browns for them to be worth betting, but I would expect them to win this game with relative ease, given the talent gap between these two teams right now.

Cleveland Browns 24 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -9

Confidence: Low

Oakland Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (3-10) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-8)

Both of these teams exceeded expectations as big underdogs last week, the Bengals in a 26-21 loss in Los Angeles to the Chargers and the Raiders with a 24-21 home upset win over the Steelers. Both teams caught their opponents in a bad spot, with the Steelers playing the Patriots next and the Chargers having to turn around and face the Chiefs in Kansas City on a short week, and were able to cover with ease as a result.

Because the Raiders actually won last week, they’re in a bit of a bad spot this week, as teams tend to have a hangover effect after a home win as big underdogs, going 70-93 ATS over the past 30 years after a home win as underdogs of 6 or more. The Raiders’ win also shifted this line from Cincinnati -4.5 down to Cincinnati -3, so we’ve lost line value with the Raiders as well. However, I still think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the visitors, as this line suggests these two teams are about even and I have the Raiders slightly higher in my roster rankings.

The Bengals got off to a great start at 4-1, but have lost 7 of their last 8 as injuries have piled up. Without quarterback Andy Dalton, #1 wide receiver AJ Green, and #1 tight end Tyler Eifert on offense and without every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict and stud pass rush specialist Carl Lawson on defense, this is far from the same team they were early in the season and, on paper, they are one of the worst teams in the league. The Raiders at least have competent quarterback play and Derek Carr has looked better in recent weeks as he’s seemed to settle into Gruden’s system a little more. This is a no confidence pick with a bad team in a tough spot, but the Raiders are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Cincinnati Bengals 26 Oakland Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) at Los Angeles Chargers (9-3)

The Chargers have an easy opponent this week, facing a Bengals team that has lost 6 of their last 7 and that is incredibly banged up on both sides of the ball, with starting quarterback Andy Dalton, #1 wide receiver AJ Green, starting tight end Tyler Eifert, starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, key edge rusher Carl Lawson, every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick all on the sidelines with various injuries. However, despite the easy opponent, the Chargers are in a very tough spot, having to play their biggest game of the season in 4 days on Thursday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs, a game that could easily decide the AFC West.

Favorites typically struggle before a short week anyway, going 55-73 ATS since 2012, but that should especially be the case in this one, as I can’t imagine the Chargers aren’t spending some time on the Chiefs this week, with such an easy opponent in front of them this week. On the other side, the Bengals are distraction free, with only a home game against the Raiders on deck. Favorites are just 55-92 ATS since 2014 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. On top of that, favorites of 10+ are just 63-80 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs.

That being said, I can’t be confident in the Bengals at all, given the talent disparity between these two teams. The Chargers are one of the better teams in the league and I have them calculated as 16-point favorites in this one, so we’re actually getting a little bit of line value with them as only 14-point favorites. I’m taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes because I expect the Chargers to be flat and not give their best effort, but even still the Chargers could win this game by multiple scores.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Cincinnati Bengals 10

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +14

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (5-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

The Bengals got off to a solid start to the season, but they’ve had terrible injury luck and are now one of the worst teams in the league with backup Jeff Driskel, a 2016 6th round pick, making his first career start this week. It’s a shame Dalton went down because he was one of the bright spots for this team and they were just starting to get healthier around him, with top receiver AJ Green, every down linebacker Nick Vigil, and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick returning to the lineup this week, after their other every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned last week. If Dalton were healthy, this team might have enough to compete for a playoff spot, as Dalton could mask some of their flaws, but they’re in serious trouble without him.

Struggling left tackle Cordy Glenn is the only regular starter actually listed on the injury report this week, but Dalton also joins a sizeable list of key players on injured reserve, including talented edge rusher Carl Lawson, starting defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, swing tackle Jake Fisher, and their top-2 tight ends Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft. Making matters even tougher for the Bengals, they’ve faced the 2nd toughest schedule in the NFL this season, with their opponents having a combined 56% winning percentage, and their schedule doesn’t get much easier this week.

The Broncos are only 5-6, the same as the Bengals, but the Bengals are 1-5 since a 4-1 start, while the Broncos rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.22%, despite being the only team to face a tougher schedule than the Bengals (58%). They’ve lost just 2 games by more than a touchdown, with 4 of their losses coming by a combined 16 points to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice), who are a combined 27-6.

The Broncos have lost key parts of their offense as the season has gone along, with right guard Ron Leary and center Matt Paradis both out for the season and starting wide receiver Demaryius Thomas traded to the Broncos, but quarterback Case Keenum is playing his best football of the season right now and the same is true for this team on defense. We’re not getting much line value with the Broncos at -5.5 and the Broncos haven’t exactly been blowing teams out, with just one of their wins coming by more than a touchdown, but the Bengals are the easiest team they’ve faced in weeks. There’s not enough here to bet the Broncos, but they should be the right side.

Denver Broncos 24 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Denver -5.5

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)

Earlier in the week, I was considering betting the Bengals in this one. They have not played as well in recent weeks as they did earlier in the season due to injuries, but it looked like there would be a chance they’d get both #1 receiver AJ Green and every down linebacker Nick Vigil back from injury this week, after getting Vontaze Burfict back last week. Instead, both Green and Vigil are expected to be out again and the Bengals could also be without left tackle Cordy Glenn and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who both missed practice on Friday.

Given that, I’m actually going to take the Browns, who have been better offensively since getting rid of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley and who are much better defensively with linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury. Schobert missed about 3 and a half games with injury, but made his presence known in his first game back, as the Browns pulled the upset over the Falcons in their last game prior to the bye. In the 6 games Schobert has started and finished this season, they have allowed a first down rate of 32.59%, as opposed to 46.69% in their other 4 games.

That’s not all him, but he’s playing at a legitimately All-Pro level this season, ranking 2nd among middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus, so his presence in the lineup is much more important than casual bettors realize. There’s not enough line value with the Browns as 3-point underdogs to take them with any confidence and I’m concerned that the Bengals will have an advantage with Hue Jackson joining their staff immediately after being fired by the Browns, but the Browns are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Final Update: Both Glenn and Kirkpatrick are out for the Bengals and heavy sharp action on the Browns has pushed this line all the way down to even. With Glenn and Kirkpatrick out, I have this line calculated at Cincinnati -1.5, so we’re now getting a little bit of line value with the hosts. This is still a no confidence pick though.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 Cleveland Browns 19

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati PK

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) at Baltimore Ravens (4-5)

I had the Ravens on my underrated list during their bye last week and was expecting to bet them in the second half of the season. They lost three in a row going into their bye, but they looked like one of the better teams in the league to start the season and those three losses were against the Saints, Panthers, and Steelers, so it was a tough stretch of games. They were also without top cornerback Marlon Humphrey for the first two and then left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the final game, both of whom are healthy and in the lineup this week.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of quarterback Joe Flacco, who did not practice all week with a hip injury and is listed as doubtful on the injury report. That creates a lot of uncertainty. Head coach John Harbaugh said he could play without practicing, so we can’t even be 100% sure he’ll miss this game and we don’t know what kind of shape he’d be in if he played. There’s also some dispute about who would play in his absence, as multiple reports have suggested we could see both RG3 and Lamar Jackson at quarterback in this one. Jackson and Griffin both have upside under center, but Griffin hasn’t started since 2016 and Jackson has never made a start, so both players have pretty low floors as well. All that uncertainty under center makes it hard to be confident with them.

We’re also not getting a good line with the Ravens because the Bengals were blown out at home last week by the Saints. This line was Baltimore -5.5 on the early line last week with Flacco expected to play, but it’s only moved down to -4 for the Flacco injury because of how bad the Bengals looked last week. That’s a pretty insignificant line movement, as it doesn’t cross any key numbers.

Teams tend to bounce back from being blown out, going 56-35 ATS since 2002 after a loss by 35 points or more. The Bengals will also be a little healthier on defense this week with linebacker Vontaze Burfict and slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard expected to return. With that in mind, I’m actually going to take the Bengals in this one, but it’s hard to be confident in either side given Baltimore’s quarterback situation. I will have an update on this tomorrow morning if the line changes or the quarterback situation changes.

Sunday update: Joe Flacco is officially expected to not play in this one and, while RG3 may see a few snaps in the 2-quarterback sets they like running, Lamar Jackson is expected to start and play the whole game. The line has shifted to 5.5 after opening at 4, so we’re getting a little more line value with the Bengals now, but the Ravens still have too high variance of a quarterback situation for me to bet either side in this one. This is probably too many points for Jackson to be favored by in his debut against a defense that should be healthier than last week, but Jackson could definitely exceed expectations. It’s tough to know what to expect from him. He’s got a ton of talent, but did not look good in limited action in the pre-season and was very much considered a work in progress as a passer coming out of college.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +5.5

Confidence: None