Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013, up to December 9 inclusive:
1-1 ML (+0.71 units)
How ya like me now? When you’re an NFL quarterback, the answer to that question almost always depends on your team’s last game. Andy Dalton knows this better than anyone; he was a hero when his Cincinnati Bengals started the season at 6-2 SU and 5-2-1 ATS, then a zero when they dropped back-to-back away games in overtime, and now he’s a hero again after three straight wins. People sure are fickle.
That’s fine; exploiting people is what betting on football is all about. And the Bengals have all the earmarks of a team that you can use to exploit the NFL betting market. They’re a small-market team with an awful history, a marvelous defense, and a red-headed game manager at quarterback. The Week 15 NFL odds have Cincinnati laying 2.5 points for Sunday night’s matchup (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC) at Heinz Field with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have lost back-to-back games and are all but eliminated from playoff contention.
Follow the latest line movement in our NFL Picks: Week 15 Betting Odds Report.
Living on the Air
At least the sharps appreciate Cincinnati. Our early NFL betting consensus reports show 70 percent support for the Bengals, and a closer look at the betting patterns from the Strip reveals that the initial burst of action was indeed on Cincy. Hard to argue with that. The Bengals went into Week 14 ranked No. 7 in overall efficiency (No. 21 offense, No. 4 defense, No. 7 special teams), and they crushed the Indianapolis Colts 42-28 as 7-point home faves, improving to 9-4 SU and 8-4-1 ATS in the process.
Let’s see… Rust Belt team, great defense, game manager QB… sounds like your defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Except the Bengals aren’t quite as good at running the football. Their offense is split between the No. 20-ranked passing attack and the No. 21-ranked ground game, although things have improved now that RB Giovani Bernard (4.7 yards per carry) is getting a few more touches at the expense of RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3.4 yards). He should get more.
It’s important to get those YPC numbers up, of course, but the important thing is that the Bengals tailbacks are getting the ball. Cincinnati is seventh in the league in rushing attempts at just over 30 per game. That’s the backbone of any sound game management plan on offense. It limits the opportunities Dalton (87.7 passer rating, 25 TDs, 16 INTs) has to negatively impact the outcome by throwing interceptions.
And make no mistake: Dalton throws interceptions. But hey, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few footballs. His plus-104 passing DYAR through Week 13 placed Dalton in the same class of entirely decent quarterbacks as Arizona’s Carson Palmer (plus-180) and Kansas City’s Alex Smith (plus-153). Those two teams are also doing very well this year with strong defense and don’t-screw-this-up offense.
The Steelers (5-8 SU, 6-7 ATS) used to be in that category. Except they took it to another level with QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is a huge step up in talent compared to the Tommy Maddoxes and Mike Tomczaks that preceded him. Roethlisberger (94.1 passer rating, plus-604 passing DYAR) is having another fine year, but the offensive line in front of him is in tatters, his tailbacks are always getting hurt, and the Steelers rushing offense has fallen all the way to No. 29 on the efficiency charts.
Even more damning, the Steel Curtain defense was No. 23 in the league going into last week’s 34-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins (+3 away). If the Fish can handle the Steelers in the snow, I don’t like Pittsburgh’s chances against Cincinnati with the weather reports calling for another cold one. Mmmm… cold ones.NFL Pick: Take the Bengals –3 (+105) at Bovada