Both the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts are happy with their starting quarterbacks. Our NFL picks for Thursday's game depend much more on the back-ups.
The Indianapolis Colts don't need to be playing this Thursday night (7:00 p.m. ET). They've got all their ducks in a row for the start of the regular season, especially on offense, where QB Andrew Luck has already established a solid rapport with his latest batch of wide receivers. So you won't see Luck on the field when the Colts host the Cincinnati Bengals.
You probably won't see much of Andy Dalton, either. The Bengals are also very happy with the work Dalton has put in this preseason, and this being the final exhibition game, it's doubtful we'll see much of Dalton on Thursday, either. But we should get an eyeful of his top back-up, AJ McCarron, and that might be enough to put Cincinnati in our football picks this week. Our NFL odds board at press time shows the Bengals getting a point on the road.
You may remember McCarron as the quarterback of the Alabama Crimson Tide when they won back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012 – adding to the title he won in 2009 during his redshirt campaign. However, McCarron finished second to Jameis Winston for the 2013 Heisman Trophy and wasn't drafted until the fifth round. It's the same old story for Nick Saban's quarterbacks.
Or is it? While John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy went on to have brief and undistinguished careers in the NFL, McCarron has opened up some eyes with his strong play this preseason. He's a combined 23-of-32 for 246 yards and a touchdown in parts of two games with the Bengals – McCarron's first action as a pro after missing the start of last year with a sore shoulder. Good stuff. He and Josh Johnson should get plenty of run Thursday night.
Indianapolis has some QB depth, too. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck will be playing his 17th NFL season, and he was effective in last week's 24-14 win over the St. Louis Rams (–2.5 at home) as the Colts picked up their first preseason win SU and ATS. But there's a huge question mark hanging over rookie third-string QB Bryan Bennett. The former Southeastern Louisiana Lion (FCS-Southland) is 5-of-23 this year with a pair of picks.
The Colts will probably carry just the two quarterbacks during the regular season, but if history is any indication, Bennett should play most if not all of Thursday's game. These two teams meet in the preseason finale every year, and in each of the past two contests, Indy turned things over to third-string QB Chandler Harnish (now with Arizona) while the Bengals won handily. We'll stick with that pattern one more time with our Week 4 football picks. The first consensus reports show the betting public is divided 50-50 with Indianapolis as a slight home dog, but we'll take our chances anyway.
Free NFL Pick: Take the Bengals PK at SportsBetting