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

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-8)

If the Bengals hadn’t benched Andy Dalton, I would have been excited about betting them this week as double digit home underdogs against the Ravens. The Ravens got a huge win at home over the Patriots last week, but that actually works against their chances of covering this week, as teams are just 27-52 ATS since 2002 after 17+ point win as home underdogs. The last instance was the Titans falling flat 38-10 in Indianapolis a week after pulling a huge home upset over the Patriots. The Ravens played last week like it was their Super Bowl and will likely have a tough time getting up for a winless Bengals team, especially with another big game on deck against the Texans. Winless teams tend to be good bets this late in the season anyway, going 55-31 ATS in week 9 or later over the past 30 seasons, as winless teams tend to be undervalued and highly motivated to get their first win.

On top of that, as impressive as their win last week was, the Ravens have also won 3 games by a combined 15 points against 3 teams who are now a combined 7-17 (including a mere 6-point home victory over these Bengals) and they lost at home by 15 to a now 2-6 Browns team. If the Ravens don’t bring their a-game, this could easily be a close matchup. The Bengals are still missing AJ Green, but are healthier coming out of their bye than they’ve been for most of the season, with players like left tackle Cordy Glenn, defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson, and cornerbacks William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard all expected to play after missing varying amounts of time in the first half of the season.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend a bet now that Dalton has been benched. Dalton’s statistical production has been arguably the worst of his career this season, but he’s also had the worst supporting cast he’s ever had around him. He was far from the problem for this winless team and benching him for 4th round rookie Ryan Finley is not a move the Bengals made to give themselves a better chance to win games this season. In a lost season, this is all about evaluating for the future, with the chance at drafting a franchise quarterback atop the draft very much in reach. The Bengals are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I have this line calculated at Baltimore -10 with Finley under center, so we’re not getting enough points to bet the Bengals confidently.

Update: Glenn is still out for the Bengals despite practicing in full all week. That doesn’t change my pick, however, as I still like the Bengals chances of keeping this relatively close with the Ravens in a bad spot, but not enough to bet on it.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +10.5

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-7) vs. Los Angeles Rams (4-3) in London

Typically the rule of thumb in these international games is to pick the favorite, as they are 24-11 ATS all-time and it makes that sense better teams would be better prepared for playing under unusual circumstances. In this matchup, the Rams are clearly the better team, facing off against the winless Bengals, but unfortunately we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Rams in the past week. They were favored by 9.5 on the early line last week, but are now 12.5-point favorites and it’s not really clear why. 

The Bengals lost at home to the Jaguars last week, but that game was close throughout and they get their top cornerback William Jackson and top defensive end Carlos Dunlap back from injury this week. Meanwhile, the Rams won in Atlanta convincingly last week, but they still rank just 12th in first down rate differential on the season at +2.00%, as their offense has not nearly been the same this season with a rebuilt offensive line. 

The Rams obviously have the talent edge, but this line is the equivalent of Los Angeles -15.5 if this game were played in Los Angeles and -9.5 if it were played in Cincinnati, which I think is too high. I still have this line calculated at Rams -9, so I’m taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes, though this is a no confidence pick because they could easily get blown out or quit in the second half in a bad spot. 

Los Angeles Rams 24 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +12.5

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-6)

A lot of teams are dealing with tough injury situations, but the Bengals might have the worst injury situation in the entire NFL. Already missing left tackle Cordy Glenn and #1 wide receiver AJ Green to begin the season, the Bengals are also without wide receiver John Ross, backup left tackle Andre Smith, right guard John Miller, their top two edge rushers Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson, and starting cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson. With all of their absences, they are the worst team in the league outside of the Dolphins. 

However, I still think we’re getting some line value with them as 4-point home underdogs against the Jaguars. Ever since Minshew Mania went to the next level during the Jaguars’ week 3 victory over the Titans on Thursday Night Football, I have thought the Jaguars are overrated. Even with Gardner Minshew outperforming expectations, the Jaguars still rank just 24th in first down rate differential and he seems to be falling back to earth in recent weeks. The Jaguars rank just 26th in my roster rankings, so they shouldn’t be favored by this many points over anyone except the Dolphins. I have this line calculated at Jacksonville -2, so we’re getting a decent amount of line value with the Bengals, even as banged up as they are. I wouldn’t recommend betting on them though.

Jacksonville Jaguars 19 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +4

Confidence: Low