Cincinnati Bengals (5-2 SU, 6-1 ATS) vs. Tennessee Titans (4-3 SU, 3-4 ATS), 4:05 p.m. EST, Week 9 NFL, Sunday, November 6, 2011, LP Field, Nashville, Tenn., TV: CBS
by Badger, Pro Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Cin. +3/TEN -3
Over/Under Total: 42
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Two AFC teams that are still very much alive in the race for their respective division titles will try and knock each other down a spot on Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans at LP Field.
The Bengals are probably the quietest 5-2 team in the NFL right now, and with a four-game winning streak going they are also one of the hottest right now too. Cincinnati won their fourth in a row last Sunday when they exploded in the closing minutes for an impressive, 34-12, victory on the road over the Seattle Seahawks. The Bengals rode a punt return for a touchdown and an interception return for a score in the final four minutes of the game to turn a narrow eight point lead into a 22-point win over the Seahawks last Sunday.
The win moved the Bengals into a second-place tie with Baltimore in the AFC North, just a game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers for the division lead. With four of the next five games on the schedule against their AFC North rivals, including two against the Steelers and one against the Ravens, the Bengals will need to win Sundays game in Nashville in order to keep the positive momentum going throughout November.
The Titans snapped a two-game losing streak with a, 27-10, victory over the winless Indianapolis Colts last weekend, but the win was far from impressive for Titans fans. The Titans were actually outgained by the Colts in the game, 399 yards to 321, and if not for 10 Colts penalties, two interceptions and a blocked punt that turned into a score, the Titans could have easily found themselves on the other end of the win column with the half-hearted effort at home.
But a win is a win, and last Sundays victory over Indy moved Tennessee one game closer to the Houston Texans in what has turned into a two-horse race in the AFC South. Just like the Bengals, the Titans face a stiff schedule in the coming weeks (at Carolina, at Atlanta, TB, at Buffalo and New Orleans), so a win on Sunday is crucial to staying afloat in the AFC South race.
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The oddsmakers out in Las Vegas are predicting a pretty even tussle between these two on Sunday, since they set the opening point spread with the home team Titans as the standard 3-point favorites on their own turf in LP Field. There are a few sportsbooks that have since lowered the number to Tennessee minus -2.5, and the offshore sportsbook 5Dimes is all the way down to minus -1.5-points, so most of the early money appears to be coming in on the Bengals at this point.
The over/under total opened at 40.5 at most sportsbooks and moved up quickly to 41.5 or 42 as sharp bettors quickly snatched up the over at the low number.
Its sort of ironic that the total is climbing for this game, considering one team is playing a rookie quarterback and the other side has yet to get much of anything from their marquee player on offense.
The rookie QB is of course the Bengals Andy Dalton, who for the most part has been impressive this season (1,479 yards, 62 comp. %, 9 TD) for a rook. But like most rookies he is prone to mistakes (7 picks) including two interceptions in last weeks game in Seattle, which kept the Seahawks hanging around until the closing minutes. As a whole hes done his job though, as the Bengals are a respectable 22nd in the league at 315.9 yards per game and a strong 12th-ranked scoring offense at 24.4 points per game.
The Bengals should get running back Cedric Benson back from suspension this week, but since they have struggled to regain their strong running game from a few season ago (just 103.4 ypg rushing 21st), its hard to imagine that his return will suddenly make the Bengals a dangerous offense overnight.
The marquee player that has virtually disappeared so far this season is of course Titans running back Chris Johnson. CJ2K as he likes to be called only has a meager 302 yards rushing this season, with a 2.8 yards per carry average and one touchdown not the type of numbers a franchise running back is supposed to put up through seven games.
Its starting to affect the offense too, as the Titans are dead last in the league at running the ball with just a 68.9 yards per game average. Its gotten so bad that after backup Javon Ringer outrushed him last week there were many calling for Ringer to replace Johnson as the starter, something head coach Mike Munchak had to address this week in a press conference.
The good news for the Titans is that they have veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to rely on while their running game is in a funk. Hasselbeck certainly isnt a sexy option at QB, but his output (1,742 yards, 63 comp. %, 11 TD, 6 INT) is solid and the Titans passing game is still in the upper half of the league (238.9 ypg 14th) despite missing their best weapon Kenny Britt on the perimeter.
This week the Titans offense will have to find a way to attack one of the best defenses in the league yeah, thats right. The Bengals own one of the better defenses in the league right now.
Its the Bengals defense that has carried the team all season long, ranking in the top-10 in every category including 4th in overall defense (297.4 ypg), 9th vs. the pass (212 ypg), 2nd vs. the run (85.4 ypg) and 4th in scoring defense allowing just 17.6 points per game. Keep in mind they havent exactly been playing against playoff-caliber offenses this far (Sea., Indy, Jack., Denver, Clev.), but none the less their strong numbers are impressive.
The Titans defense is perfecting the bend but dont break philosophy this season giving up big yardage, especially in the running game (129.3 ypg 27th), but their 20.7 points allowed per game is on the fringe of the top-10 (11th). One factor to watch this week will be how much pressure the Titans defensive line can generate on the rookie Dalton, since their total of 13 sacks this season is one of the lowest totals in the league (tied with Seattle and San Diego for third-lowest total in NFL).
These two teams havent met on the gridiron since the 2008 season, a 24-7 victory for the Titans back when they used to run the ball so well (CJ2K and LenDale White combined for 177 yards). The last time they played in Nashville was in 2005, a 31-23 victory for Cincinnati as 3-point favorites. Overall the Titans hold a 7-3 SU advantage on the Bengals, but two of the Bengals wins have come in the last three meetings.
Tennessees advantage drops to 6-4 when you look at the numbers against the spread, but again two of those ATS wins have come in the last three meetings. The road team has done well for bettors over the years, going 5-2 ATS in the last seven meetings overall.
The Bengals are 8-0 ATS in their last eight games versus an AFC opponent, and 5-0 ATS in their last five road games. Theyre also 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight games as a road underdog of 0.5- to 3-points, so most of the betting trends favor the visiting Bengals in this game.
The over also has some strong trends. The over is 6-0 in the last six games these two have played in Tennessee. The over is also 11-3 in Cincinnatis last 14 games as a small (0.5 to 3) road dog.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Tennessee is playing their third consecutive game at home, in almost a must-win spot with a little turmoil over the whole Chris Johnson situation, so I expect them to have a fire in their belly. Cincy was on the West Coast in Seattle last week, and now they go on the road again. It certainly not my favorite pick of the week, but I think Im going to have to take the Titans here in a game I think will go over too. Take Tennessee minus the points.
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