AFC Wildcard Game Preview and Pick: New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals – Point Spread

New York Jets (9-7, 9-7 ATS) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 7-9 ATS), AFC Wildcard, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Saturday, Jan. 9th, 4:30 PM Eastern, NBC
By Z-Man of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Bengals -3/Jets +3
Over/under: 34

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The NFL’s Wild Card playoff weekend gives us three re-matches from the final week of the regular season, including one in Cincinnati Saturday pitting the New York Jets against the AFC North champion Bengals.

Most online sportsbooks opened this game with Cincy favored by 2 points, although some had the Bengals at -3 or even -4. As of Tuesday afternoon most shops were chalking the Bengals at either -2 or -3. Also, the total opened at 34 or 34 , and has held steady in early betting action.

Cincinnati is also giving right around -140 on most NFL betting moneylines, with New York getting +120.

These two teams, as you might have heard, just played Sunday night, although with very different agendas. The Jets needed to win to make the playoffs, while the Bengals were already in, and rested several starters. So it came as no surprise that New York beat Cincy, although the 37-0 final score and the effort shown by the Bengals or rather, the lack of it - was a bit of a shock.

The Jets ran for 257 yards Sunday ( including 92 yards on four carries by Wildcat back Brad Smith), and held the Bungles to 72 total yards, including zero that’s 0 net yards passing.

The Jets began the season as longshots of upwards of 30/1 to win the AFC championship, and 50/1 to win the Super Bowl. But with a new head coach and a rookie starting quarterback, New York started 3-0. They then lost three in a row and six of their next seven, and looked like they were in big trouble in the AFC playoff race. But the Jets then won three straight, while others fell by the wayside. And even after blowing a game at home to Atlanta, NY won two in a row, over Colts and Bengals teams who basically surrendered. So the Jets are back in the playoffs after missing the postseason the previous two seasons.

New York also went over its regular-season wins over/under of 7 .

The Bengals started the season as about 8/1 shots to win the AFC North, so they’ve already provided some of their financial backers with a nice payout. Cincy also went off getting around 30/1 to win the conference championship, and upwards of 80/1 to win the Super Bowl. The Bengals lost their season opener to Denver on a fluke touchdown in the waning seconds, then won four straight and nine of their next 11 to clinch the AFC North title. But they lost three of their last four games, and looked bad in doing so.

Nonetheless, Cincinnati, which reached the playoffs for the first time since 2005, also went over its wins over/under of seven.

All in all, Jets QB Mark Sanchez performed this season about like what you’d expect from a rookie at that position. He had some good times, and some bad ones like five interceptions in a loss to Buffalo in week six. On the season the kid who QB’d Southern Cal to a victory in the Rose Bowl a year ago completed 54% of his passes for 6.7 YPA, with 12 TDs, 20 INTs and a lessthan-wonderful 63.2 passing rating.

On the other side of this quarterback match-up, Cincy’s former Trojan Carson Palmer hit on 60% of his throws this season for 6.6 YPA, a 21/13 TD/INT ratio and an 83.6 rating.

New York led the league this season in rushing, averaging 172 YPG on the ground, while ranking 20th in total offense at 320 YPG. On the other side of the ball the Jets also led the league in total defense, allowing just 252 YPG, and in scoring, allowing less than 15 PPG, and ranked eighth vs. the run at 99 YPG.

The Bengals ranked 24th in offense this season at 309 YPG, ninth in rushing at 129 YPG, fourth in defense at 301 YPG and seventh vs. the run at 98 YPG.

Cincinnati also ranked sixth in the league in average time-of-possession at 31:59, while the Jets ranked ninth at 31:43.

These two teams played just two common opponents this season. The Jets beat Houston in the season opener 24-7 and blanked Oakland in week seven 38-0. The Bengals, meanwhile, lost at home to the Texans in week six 28-17, and blew a late lead and fell to the Raiders 20-17 in week 11.

On the injury front the Jets took a couple of hurts Sunday night when starting LB David Harris sprained his ankle, and his replacement, Ryan Fowler, got his bell rung. The status of both is uncertain for Saturday. And P Steve Weatherford is nursing a bad hammy, and had a lousy time kicking Sunday night.

On the other side of the field, Cincy WR Chad Johnson (he said he’d change his name back if he got shut out Sunday, and he got blanked) tweaked a knee Sunday night, and had an MRI Monday. And while he’s sure to play Saturday, one would figure he won’t be at 100%.

New York went 6-8-1 on the totals this season, as Jets games averaged just under 37 points. Cincy went 6-9 on the totals, as Bengals games averaged just over 37 points.

Bettors may want to check the weather reports for Saturday in Cincinnati, where extreme cold is expected, before playing this game.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Jets and Cincy are both getting upwards of 20/1 at various online sportsbooks to win the AFC championship, and 50/1 to win the Super Bowl.

Sagarin’s PURE POINTS ratings at USAToday.com rate the Jets at 28.5, the Bengals at 20.6. Factoring in Sagarin’s updated NFL home-field advantage figure of 2.6, and New York is favored by 5 1/2-points over Cincinnati on the Sagarin line.

Z-Man’s Pick: Look for the Jets defense to be the deciding factor here as they win the game straight up.