Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (6-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-14)

The Bengals have just one win this season, but they’ve been much more competitive than their record suggests. Of their losses, 8 of them have come by one score or less and they rank 26th in the NFL in first down rate differential at -3.98%, which obviously isn’t great, but far from the worst in the league. They’ve been killed by turnovers, tied with the Chargers for the worst turnover margin in the league at -16, but turnovers are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so the Bengals aren’t necessarily going to lose the turnover battle in this matchup just because they’ve struggled with them all season.

The Bengals have also played better in recent weeks since getting left tackle Cordy Glenn back from injury and switching back to veteran quarterback Andy Dalton, rather than hapless rookie Ryan Finley. Over the past 4 weeks, the Bengals actually have a positive first down rate differential at +1.19%. The Browns, meanwhile, have gone in the opposite direction, as their defense has completely fallen off since losing stud defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Myles Garrett. Over the past 4 games, the Browns rank 29th in the NFL with a -7.76% first down rate differential, primarily due to a defense that ranks dead last in the NFL with a 44.36% first down rate allowed over that stretch.  

Even though the Bengals have been the better team in recent weeks, this line still favors the Browns by a field goal on the road. The Browns won their matchup against the Bengals a few weeks ago, but that Bengals actually won the first down rate in that game by 2.35%, with the 8-point game largely swinging on a long interception return touchdown by the Browns. That first matchup was in Cleveland and, now back home Cincinnati, the Bengals have a great chance to win outright. Getting field goal protection is just a bonus. This is my Pick of the Week.

Cincinnati Bengals 24 Cleveland Browns 20 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (1-13) at Miami Dolphins (3-11)

Both of these teams have had miserable seasons, with a combined 4 wins between the two teams. The Bengals only have one win, but they’ve been a more competitive team than the Dolphins, with just 6 double digit losses, compared to 9 for the Dolphins, and a point differential of -148, compared to -194 for the Dolphins. In terms of first down rate differential, the Bengals hold the edge at -3.91% to -7.19%. That’s despite the fact that the Bengals have faced a significantly tougher schedule, with a 57% opponents combined winning percentage, as compared to 47% for the Dolphins. 

The Dolphins have been better in games started by veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, rather than young quarterback Josh Rosen, with a 4.47% better first down rate in Fitzpatrick’s 11 starts as compared to Rosen’s 3 starts, but the Bengals have also been better in games started by veteran Andy Dalton, rather than young quarterback Ryan Finley, with a 4.41% better first down rate in Dalton’s 11 starts as compared to Finley’s 3 starts. The Bengals have also benefited from the return of left tackle Cordy Glenn in recent weeks and overall actually rank 24th in my roster rankings, while the Dolphins rank dead last. 

With that in mind, we’re getting good line value with the Bengals as just 1-point road favorites, as I have this line calculated at Cincinnati -4. The Bengals are also in a better spot. This isn’t a particularly meaningful game for either team other than being a relatively easy opportunity to pick up a rare win, but the Dolphins could completely look past the Bengals with a trip to New England on deck, while the Bengals have a much easier game on deck at home against the Browns. The Dolphins will almost definitely be double digit underdogs next week and teams are are just 33-64 ATS since 2008 before being double digit divisional underdogs. I thought about making this my Pick of the Week, but couldn’t bring myself to make arguably the most meaningless game of the week my top pick. I do like the Bengals a lot this week though.

Cincinnati Bengals 24 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati -1

Confidence: High

New England Patriots at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (10-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-12)

The Patriots have typically been a good bet to bounce back after a loss, going 51-28 ATS off of a loss in the Bill Belichick era and not losing three in a row since 2002. They enter this game on a two-game losing streak, after losing to the Texans and Chiefs, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a good bet this week as 10-point road favorites in Cincinnati. They’re actually just 8-14 ATS off of a loss in the Belichick era when favored by 7 points or more and they’ve had some struggles on the road in general in the past couple years.

The Bengals are also a much more competitive team than their 1-12 record suggests. They’re a significantly better offense with Andy Dalton under center rather than Ryan Finley, with a 32.67% first down rate in Dalton’s 10 starts and a 28.18% first down rate in Finley’s 3 starts. The return of Cordy Glenn from injury 3 weeks ago also helped this offense. Meanwhile on defense, they actually rank 14th in first down rate allowed on the season at 35.66% and 7th since week 7 at 32.80%, as they’ve gotten healthier in recent weeks.

Seven of their 12 losses have come by 8 points or fewer, despite playing the 5th toughest schedule in the NFL, so I wouldn’t assume the Patriots are just going to come into Cincinnati and blow them out. It’s pretty unlikely that the Bengals will give the Patriots their first 3-game losing streak in nearly two decades, but this game could be closer than expected. I wouldn’t recommend betting on it, but the Bengals seem like the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Final Update: Cornerback Jason McCourty is out for the Patriots despite practicing throughout the week, while Darqueze Dennard is playing for the Bengals despite missing Friday’s practice with injury. Despite that, this line has moved up to 10.5 in most places. I wouldn’t recommend a bet on the Bengals, but this should be a closer game than most expect.

New England Patriots 24 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +10.5

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (1-11) at Cleveland Browns (5-7)

The Browns’ season might have ended last week, with their loss in Pittsburgh dropping them to 5-7 on the year. A tough schedule has been part of the problem, as they have the highest opponents winning percentage in the NFL at 62%, but this team has also been overrated from the start because they lack depth on the roster beyond their stars. Running back Nick Chubb, wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, left guard Joel Bitonio, center JC Tretter, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, defensive ends Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, linebacker Joe Schobert, and cornerback Denzel Ward are all among the best in the league at their respective positions, but this is a very top heavy roster.

With linebacker Christian Kirksey out for the season, the Browns have gotten horrible play from their linebackers other than Schobert. Their defensive line depth is horrendous and now with Myles Garrett suspended and Olivier Vernon hurt they arguably have the worst defensive line in the NFL. Things aren’t much better on the offensive line, where they’ve had problems everywhere except left guard and center. Kareem Hunt has given them a third weapon in the passing game since returning from suspension and they’re expected to get tight end David Njoku back from injury this week as well, but they’re also without starting safety Morgan Burnett for the season on the other side of the ball, which is a big loss. All in all, I have the Browns ranked just 23rd in my roster rankings without Garrett, Vernon, or Burnett. 

Despite their loss last week, the Browns remain overrated, favored by a touchdown at home against a Bengals team that is better than their record suggests. Of the Bengals’ 11 losses, 6 of them have come by a touchdown or less and that’s despite the fact that they’ve had the 3rd toughest schedule in the NFL (57% opponents winning percentage) and despite the fact that they’ve benched quarterback Andy Dalton for overmatched 4th round rookie Ryan Finley for 3 games. 

On the season, the Bengals rank 27th in first down rate differential at -4.59%, led by a defense that is actually middle of the pack, ranking 16th with a 35.60% first down rate allowed. Their defense has been even better in recent weeks, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed since week 7. Their offense has been a problem, but they’ve been about 3% better in first down rate with Dalton under center vs. Finley and they got left tackle Cordy Glenn back from injury a few weeks ago as well, which is a big help.

I have the Bengals 27th in my roster rankings about a point and a half behind the Browns. My calculated line is Cleveland -4, so we’re getting enough line value with Cincinnati +7 to justify betting on that, even with the Bengals in a tough spot before a home game against the Patriots (teams are 30-58 ATS since 2014 before being 7+ point home underdogs). Even in a tough spot, this should be another close game for the Bengals, who should be focused for a division rival.

Cleveland Browns 20 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +7

Confidence: Medium

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

New York Jets (4-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-11)

The Bengals still have yet to win a game, but that actually makes them a good bet, as winless teams tend to be undervalued, overlooked, and desperate for their first win. In the past 30 years, winless teams are 57-32 ATS in week 9 or later. The Bengals have been in good some betting spots in recent weeks, facing a Ravens team that was in a sandwich game between matchups with the Patriots and Texans, then facing a Raiders team that was favored by 13 despite not winning a game by more than 8 all season, and then facing a Steelers team that was sandwiched between two emotional rivalry games with the Browns and that was missing its top running back and its top wide receiver. 

Despite those good spots, it’s been hard to be excited about betting on them with backup quarterback Ryan Finley under center, so I only made a small wager on them against the Raiders and then stayed off of them against the Ravens and Steelers. A fourth round rookie, Finley’s insertion into the starting lineup was not made to help this team to win games, but to evaluate the rookie in a lost season, before deciding whether or not to use their upcoming high draft pick on another quarterback. Incumbent quarterback Andy Dalton was having the worst statistical season of his career before being benched, but he also had easily the worst supporting cast of his career and was not the reason this team wasn’t winning games. 

Finley, who looked overmatched in the pre-season, continued that into the regular season, completing 47.1% of his passes for an average of 5.45 YPA, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, giving him a QB rating 17 points lower than Dalton. Finley also led this offense to a 3.73% lower first down rate than Dalton. After three starts, it seems the Bengals have seen all they need to see from Finley, as they’ve announced they’re going back to Dalton. 

With Dalton back under center, the Bengals become much more bettable. Despite their record and Finley’s horrendous play for 3 games, the Bengals don’t have the worst first down rate in the league, ranking 30th in the NFL at -6.01%. Of their 11 losses, 6 of them have come by 7 points or fewer, even including two of their three games with Finley under center (the exception was the Ravens, who haven’t played a close game against anyone in a couple months). That’s despite the fact that the Bengals have faced the toughest schedule in the NFL by DVOA. 

The Bengals are also relatively healthier now than they were earlier this season, with left tackle Cordy Glenn, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, defensive end Carl Lawson, and cornerback Darqueze Dennard all having missed significant time with injury earlier in the year. Even with Dalton re-inserted back into the starting lineup, this line has stayed put at Jets -3.5, the same line as last week on the early line. Part of that could be because the Jets blew out the Raiders last week, but even after that blowout victory this line opened at -4 before it was announced that Dalton would be starting, after which this line shifted just a half point. With Dalton under center, I have this line calculated at even, so we’re getting good line value with the Bengals as 3.5 point underdogs.

The Jets had an impressive performance last week against the Raiders, but that actually doesn’t bode well for their chances of covering this week, as teams tend to struggle after a blowout home victory as underdogs. Teams are just 27-52 ATS since 2002 after 17+ point win as home underdogs. After such a huge home victory, the Jets might not be totally focused for a winless opponent. If that happens, the Bengals could definitely pull the upset and get their first win of the season. The Bengals are my Pick of the Week at +3.5 (which I locked in earlier this week) and are still worth a bet at +3.

Cincinnati Bengals 19 New York Jets 17 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-10)

The Bengals are six games away from becoming the third team all-time to lose every game in a 16-game season. Ordinarily, winless teams tend to be good bets this late in the season, going 56-32 ATS in week 9 or later in the past 30 seasons, as they tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and hungry for a win. The Bengals have faced the toughest schedule in the league by DVOA and 5 of their 10 losses have come by 7 points or fewer. That being said, it’s hard to get excited about betting on the Bengals with fourth round rookie Ryan Finley under center.

When the Bengals benched Andy Dalton for Finley, it was not a move the Bengals made to give themselves a better chance of winning in 2019. In a lost season, it was all about giving Finley a chance before deciding whether or not to use their upcoming high draft pick on another quarterback. Dalton had the worst quarterback rating of his career before being benched, but he also had by far the worst supporting cast of his career. Even in a down statistical year for Dalton, his QB rating is 26.4 points higher than Finley’s and his YPA is 2.1 yards higher.

Even still, we’re getting some line value with the Bengals, as the Steelers are missing their top-2 offensive skill position players, running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers have a solid defense, ranking 10th in first down rate allowed, but they haven’t been as good as they’ve appeared, as they’ve been overly reliant on takeaways (26, 2nd in the NFL), which are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The Steelers are also in a tough spot, with this game sandwiched between last week’s emotional rivalry game against the Browns and next week’s rematch. They might not bring their best effort for a 0-10 Bengals team. I wouldn’t bet on the Bengals, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Pittsburgh Steelers 22 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +6.5

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-9) at Oakland Raiders (5-4)

The Raiders are 5-4, but they haven’t played as well as that suggests. While their 5 wins have come by a combined 27 points, their 4 losses have come by a combined 59 points, giving them a -32 point differential that ranks 24th in the NFL. Their offense has played pretty well, ranking 12th in the NFL in first down rate at 37.43%, but their have the worst first down rate allowed at 41.81% and rank just 27th in first down rate differential at -4.38%. They rank a little higher in my roster rankings, coming in 20th, and they’ve faced a tough schedule (3rd in opponents DVOA), but any way you look at it the Raiders haven’t been as good as their record suggests.

The Bengals have also faced a tough schedule (1st in opponents DVOA) and, while they haven’t won a game, they haven’t necessarily been the worst team in the league this season. Despite their tough schedule, four of their nine losses have come by 6 points or fewer and they rank 29th in first down rate differential at -7.03%, obviously not good, but not the worst in the league. Winless teams tend to be good bets this late in the season anyway, going 55-32 ATS since 1989 in week 9 or later, as they tend to be overlooked and undervalued.

If Andy Dalton was still starting for the Bengals, they’d be an obvious bet as 11.5-point underdogs against a Raiders team that hasn’t won by more than 8 points all season, but we’re not getting enough line value to bet them confidently with fourth round rookie Ryan Finley under center. Dalton’s statistical production had been the worst of his career, but he also had the worst supporting cast of his career around him. Benching him was more about the Bengals wanting to evaluate Finley in an otherwise lost season than it was about Dalton’s performance and, while that may be the right move long-term, with the opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback atop the draft in reach, it doesn’t help them cover this spread, as Finley is an unprepared backup caliber talent with a horrendous supporting cast. I have this line calculated at Cincinnati +10, so the Bengals are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but there’s not enough here to bet the Bengals confidently. 

Sunday Update: This line has moved all the way up to 13, a massive jump from the early line last week, which had Oakland favored by 8. The Raiders haven’t won more by more than a touchdown all season and winless teams like the Bengals tend to be good bets this late in the season, so the Bengals are worth a small bet at +13.

Oakland Raiders 27 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +13

Confidence: Medium