Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)

These two teams met way back in week 1, when the Ravens shut out the Bengals in a 20-0 victory. A lot has changed since then. After failing to score an offensive touchdown in either of their first two games of the season, the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and replaced him with Bill Lazor. Lazor has done a better job with this offense, but only by default, as the Bengals have struggled on the offensive line all season and have been without guys like John Ross, Tyler Boyd, and Tyler Eifert for most of the year, leaving Andy Dalton without a capable 2nd option in the passing game after AJ Green.

On the season, they rank just 23rd in first down rate at 32.04%, but their defense has been pretty solid all season, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 33.04% rate, 11th in the NFL, giving them a first down rate differential of -1.00%, 21st in the NFL. The Ravens, meanwhile, have continued their strong defensive play since week 1, allowing opponents to move the chains at a mere 31.03% rate, 3rd lowest in the league. That’s largely the result of a weak schedule of quarterbacks though, as 5 of their 9 wins have come against teams starting backup quarterbacks, the EJ Manuel led Raiders, the Matt Moore led Dolphins, the Tom Savage led Texans, the Brett Hundley led Packers, and the Jacoby Brissett led Colts.

Baltimore has also had issues on offense, like the Bengals have, moving the chains at a 32.96% rate, 20th in the NFL. Their first down rate differential is +1.93%, 10th best in the NFL, solid, but unspectacular when you consider the schedule they’ve faced. I have this line calculated at Baltimore -6.5. Given their issues on offense and the Bengals’ solid defense, they could have a tough time scoring enough points to cover this 10-point line without winning the turnover battle, which is far from a guarantee.

In the previous matchup, the Ravens won the turnover battle by 4, a huge part of the reason why they won the game by 20. Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis though. For example, teams that lose the turnover battle by 4 or more in a divisional game, on average, have a turnover margin of -0.1 in a same season rematch and, as a result, they are 47-37 ATS in that rematch as underdogs. If we assume turnover neutral football in this game, the Bengals have a very strong chance of covering as 10-point underdogs.

Teams tend to cover in same season revenge games anyway, as road underdogs are 68-39 ATS since 2002 in regular season divisional revenge games against a team that previously defeated them earlier in the season as road underdogs, as the Ravens were in Cincinnati. This was going to be my Pick of the Week, but the Bengals are without stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict and their defense is not the same without him out there, so I will limit this to a medium confidence pick. I still think it’s worth a bet though, as this line is way too high. Even with Burfict out, the Ravens are unlikely to score a bunch of points in this one.

Baltimore Ravens 20 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +10

Confidence: Medium

Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: High

Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) at Minnesota Vikings (10-3)

The Vikings lost last week as 3-point favorites in Carolina, but this line still moved from Minnesota -9 over Cincinnati on the early line last week to -11 this week, as a result of the Bengals’ 33-7 home loss to the Chicago Bears. I haven’t soured on the Bengals quite as much as the general public seems to have. The Bears have been an underrated team for most of the season and the Bengals were also in a terrible spot, missing a couple key players with injury, coming off of a close loss at home to the division rival Steelers, with this tough game in Minnesota on deck.

Even with the big loss last week, the Bengals still rank 20th in first down rate differential at -0.86%. They aren’t the same team without stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who remains out with a concussion for the 2nd straight game, but they could get running back Joe Mixon back from a one-game absence with his concussion after he returned to practice on Thursday and Friday. They also are fortunate enough to be playing a Minnesota team that is having their own injury issues. Right tackle Mike Remmers and center Pat Elflein are set to return from injuries, but left tackle Riley Reiff and tight end Kyle Rudolph will miss this game.

Minnesota is also in a terrible spot this week, much like the Bengals were last week. They are coming off of a tough loss to the Panthers and have to turn around and go to Green Bay next week to face Aaron Rodgers and company. Double digit favorites typically don’t cover before being underdogs, which is what the Vikings will be in Green Bay next week. Teams are 58-78 ATS in that spot since 2002. The Bengals, meanwhile, should be completely focused with only a home game against the Lions on deck, especially given how they got embarrassed last week.

Much like the Bears caught the Bengals off guard last week, the Bengals could easily catch the Vikings off guard this week. They’re probably not going to win easily like the Bears did last week, as the Vikings are still a lot better coached and more talented than the Vikings, but they could easily keep this close against a Minnesota team that has just 4 wins by more than 10 points this season (Buccaneers, Packers, Rams, Browns). The Bengals are worth a bet as long as this line is 10 or higher.

Minnesota Vikings 20 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +11

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-7)

The Bears were a capable opponent in the middle of the season, but they’ve had a lot of injuries in recent weeks. They got stud middle linebacker Danny Trevathan back from a 3-game absence last week, but have since lost nose tackle Eddie Goldman, right guard Kyle Long, and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee indefinitely from a team that had already lost outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, tight end Zach Miller, and safety Adrian Amos long-term, all of whom were contributing in the middle of the season.

Fortunately, they get to face a Bengals team that is equally banged up. The Bengals will be missing stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict, cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones, safety Shawn Williams, outside linebacker Nick Vigil, and running back Joe Mixon. On top of that, stud defensive tackle Geno Atkins, middle linebacker Vincent Rey, and cornerback Darqueze Dennard all were significantly limited in practice this week and are listed as questionable. As banged up as the Bears are, the Bengals shouldn’t be favored by more than 4 points against anyone except the Browns, who incidentally are the only team the Bengals have beaten by more than 4 points all season.

The Bengals are also in a terrible spot. Not only are they coming off of a brutal late loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night, a loss that arguably ended their season, but the Bengals also have to turn around and go to Minnesota next week. Given that, they could easily look past the lowly Bengals, who still have enough talent to keep it close with a banged up Cincinnati team. Teams are just 29-55 ATS since 2008 as 6+ point favorites before being 6+ point road underdogs, which the Bengals will likely be in Minnesota next week (+7.5 on the early line). The Bears are worth a small bet at 6 or higher.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 Chicago Bears 16

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6.5

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

When I saw the Bengals were touchdown home underdogs in this game on the early line last week, I was strongly considering making a bet on Cincinnati +7, depending on the results of last week. Unfortunately, this line has shifted from 7 to 4.5 in the past week, due in large part to the Steelers’ underwhelming 31-28 home victory over the Brett Hundley led Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. That game wasn’t as close as the final score suggests though, as the Packers struggled to move the ball for most of the game, except for a few big plays they scored touchdowns on. The Steelers won the first down battle 28 to 15 and had a first down rate differential of +10.53%. On the season, they rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +5.51%. They are clearly still a top-5 team, despite the close call against Green Bay.

Given that, we aren’t getting much line value with the Bengals at +4.5. We are still getting some though, as I have this line calculated at 3. The Bengals have major issues on the offensive line, but they have some good playmakers around Andy Dalton and a top-10 defense supporting him. They are kind of flying under the radar a little bit in the AFC right now, but they’re 5-6 and they’ve faced a tough schedule. Their losses have come against the Ravens at home, the Texans at home week 2 when they were healthy, the Packers in Green Bay back when Aaron Rodgers was healthy, these Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Jaguars in Jacksonville, and the Titans in Tennessee. They played Houston, Green Bay, and Tennessee close and could do that here as well, especially since the Steelers enter with some key absences and potential absences.

The Steelers are missing top cornerback Joe Haden and right tackle Marcus Gilbert with injury and suspension respectively. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster returns after a one game absence with a hamstring injury, but he might have to be their #1 receiver this week, as Antonio Brown is questionable with a toe injury he suffered on practice on Thursday. Even though he hasn’t practiced since, he’s still expected to be able to suit up Monday Night, but that’s far from a guarantee and he easily could be less than 100% if he plays. If he’s ruled out I’ll revisit this pick, but the Bengals are a low confidence pick at 4.5 for now.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +4.5

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-10) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-6)

The Bengals are in a terrible spot here, as they could look past the winless Browns with a huge home game against the Steelers on deck. Teams are just 36-67 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, as big upcoming home games tend to present a major distraction for teams, and the Bengals are +7 currently on the early line. On top of that, favorites of 6+ like the Bengals are here are just 55-90 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs of 6 or more. Picking the Browns has been a pretty bad idea over the past couple years, as they’ve covered in just 4 of their last 20 games, but that’s pretty adequately priced into this line, as the Bengals as favored by 8 points, my exact calculated line. This is a no confidence pick, especially since the Browns have another tough game against the Chargers on deck, but this could be a major trap game for the Bengals, so Cleveland is my pick in pick ‘em pools. I can’t take them for any confidence though, as they could easily be down by 7 late and allow a return touchdown or screw up some other way.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 Cleveland Browns 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +8

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos: 2017 Week 11 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (3-6) at Denver Broncos (3-6)

The Broncos have lost 5 straight games by double digits and have lost their last 2 games by a combined 53 points, but teams tend to bounce back pretty well after back-to-back blowout losses. Teams are 45-31 ATS since 2002 off of back-to-back losses by 21 or more, as teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed after two straight big losses. The schedule also gets a little easier for the Broncos, with the Bengals coming to town, following games against the Chiefs, Eagles, and Patriots.

Not only has the Broncos’ schedule been tough, but they have done very poorly with turnover margin. Through 9 games, they rank last in the NFL in turnover margin at -14, but they should be better going forward, given how inconsistent turnover margins are on a week-to-week basis. Despite a 3-6 record and a tough schedule, they rank 21st in first down rate differential. However, we aren’t getting much line value with the Broncos as 2.5 point home favorites because, like the Broncos, the Bengals are also underrated as a result of a poor turnover margin. They are -9 in turnover margin, 3rd worst in the NFL, but they rank 17th in first down rate differential. They also have a significant edge at quarterback and a comparable defense to the Broncos.

The Bengals are also in a good spot as they only have an easy game against the Browns up next, meaning they should be focused. The Broncos, meanwhile, have to travel to Oakland after this one and could get caught looking forward a little bit. Underdogs are 65-40 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, which the Broncos will be next week in Oakland. That trend might not apply to the Broncos this week because they’ve been embarrassed in back-to-back weeks, but I can’t be confident at all in the Broncos this week as 2.5 point home favorites. They could win by a field goal or more, but Cincinnati is a slightly superior team who could win outright. This is exactly where I have this line and there are offsetting trends, so this is a really tough one.

Denver Broncos 16 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -2.5

Confidence: None