Bengals vs. Raiders NFL Picks: Lay -2.5 on Cincinnati Against a Still-Rebuilding Oakland Team

Sterling Xie

Saturday, September 12, 2015 11:08 PM GMT

Saturday, Sep. 12, 2015 11:08 PM GMT

While the week’s more glamorous games might receive more action, Sunday’s best value on the NFL odds board lies out west in a relatively inconspicuous game that figures to draw few eyeballs.

Despite four consecutive playoff appearances, the Cincinnati Bengals have developed a perception as a perpetual loser due to their 0-4 record in those postseason appearances. Consequently, perhaps it’s not surprising to see the public down on Cincy, as the Bengals are currently a mere -2.5-point favorites over the lowly Oakland Raiders. Even with the game being at the Oakland Coliseum (or whatever its corporate name is nowadays), numerous signs suggest that the Bengals should still come away with a comfortable victory.

It starts with Andy Dalton, the player who seemingly represents the face of Cincinnati’s stasis. Though every quarterback will fare better against worse defenses, the famously fungible Dalton exhibits especially large splits. There are a few different ways to gauge pass defense, but one method is through Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, which represents an opponent-adjusted measure of success rate. By last season’s pass defense rankings, here’s how Dalton fared when facing top-15 pass defenses compared to bottom-15 units:

 

A Tale of Two Daltons

 

vs. Top 15 Pass D (’14)

vs. Bottom 15 Pass D (’14)

Comp %

61.4%

68.3%

QB Rating

76.4

97.4

Yds/Att

6.3

8.5

 

Moreover, opponent strength has more drastically affected Dalton’s week-to-week performance than game location. Over his career, Dalton doesn’t exhibit meaningful home-road splits in any core passing categories. Last year’s Oakland defense ranked 28th in DVOA against the pass, and while much of that stemmed from the Raiders’ youth, Oakland didn’t make meaningful changes to their personnel this season.  Veteran free-agent signings Curtis Lofton and Nate Allen will both start despite struggling at their prior locales, while draft picks like Mario Edwards Jr. and Ben Heeney might be a year away from playing heavy snaps. Ostensibly promising linebacker Sio Moore quickly fell out of favor under Jack Del Rio and was dealt to Indianapolis, robbing the Raiders of their most athletic second-level defender.

Khalil Mack is a clearly incandescent talent who has received national attention, and the Raiders do have high hopes for a young cornerback corps led by T.J. Carrie and D.J. Hayden.  However, the core components of this defense are still callow, and the Raiders only have the skeleton of a competent unit.  It’s easy to forget, but unlike most middling quarterbacks, Dalton didn’t arrive in that neighborhood through yawn-inducing consistency, but rather through wild week-to-week variation. History suggests we’ll see the good Dalton this Sunday, which should give Cincinnati plenty of juice offensively.

The question then becomes whether Derek Carr and the Raiders offense can score enough points to keep up and either win this game or keep the score close enough to potentially cover the spread. That proposition seems dubious, if only because the optimism surrounding Oakland’s offense seems built on a rather unsteady foundation. Carr certainly kept the turnovers down with a 21-12 TD-INT ratio, and generally avoided big losses with a solid 3.9 percent sack rate. However, while he was excellent at avoiding the catastrophic plays that typically befall rookie quarterbacks, he also made none of the big plays that would suggest a player on the verge of an imminent breakout. As Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart illustrated this offseason, Carr was farther away from league-average on various yards-per-attempt rate stats than any quarterback in the league. If anyone earned the Captain Checkdown moniker in 2014, it was Carr.

Granted, Carr was working with a subpar receiving corps, one that received a big infusion of talent with rookies Amari Cooper and Clive Walford, as well as free-agent signee Michael Crabtree. It’s not difficult to envision Carr developing into a more threatening downfield passer this year and validating the optimism. If that development does unfold, though, it’s unlikely to start against Cincinnati, which has been stingy against deep passes. Last season, the Bengals allowed just 24 completions of 25 or more yards, sixth-fewest in the league. This year’s secondary returns intact apart from 37-year-old cornerback Terrence Newman, but Cincy has a pair of former first-rounders in Dre’ Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard itching for more playing time in Newman’s stead. 

Oakland’s running game is also unlikely to exploit a Bengals run defense that was surprisingly porous last season (28th in DVOA). Latavius Murray’s resume essentially consists of a single 90-yard run against the Kansas City Chiefs—remove that one carry, and Murray had fewer rushing yards last season than Bernard Pierce or Ben Tate. Roy Helu was an efficient per-play back who represented one of Oakland’s more intriguing free-agent adds this offseason, but for now, the Raiders appear committed to keeping Helu confined to passing downs while Murray receives the lion’s share of the carries.

This game opened with the Bengals at -3.5 NFL odds, and it’s puzzling to see how the line has moved in Oakland’s favor in the days since.  The public is down on Cincinnati’s season-long prospects, as Bengals fatigue seems to have set in. Nevertheless, even though the status quo may be uninspiring, this remains a playoff-caliber team that should have little issues handling a still-rebuilding Raiders squad on Sunday. Lay the points on the Bengals with your NFL picks and enjoy the profits while the rest of the country sleeps on this game.

NFL Pick: Bengals -2.5 (-125) at 5Dimes

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