NFL Handicapping: Steam Pick of the Week
by Josh Nagel - 10/21/2009
Game: Chicago Bears (3-2, 3-2 ATS) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-2, 3-3 ATS)
Spread: Opened Bengals -3; Current is Bengals -1.5.
Where the steam is coming from and why: Bears bettors, who evidently believe this is the time to back the erratic club against a similarly unpredictable Bengals club. History, of course, isn't on the side of the Bengals, who looked dreadful in the second half of last Sunday's 28-17 loss to the Houston Texans. However, this is a team that has wins over the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers to its credit.
In all fairness, the Bears didn't have much to be proud of, either, in their 21-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Their defense let Atlanta march down the field without any resistance late in the fourth quarter with the score tied, 14-14, and quarterback Jay Cutler made some bad throws on a final drive that could have tied the score. Matt Ryan and the Falcons had their way in the passing game most of the night against Chicago, which is giving up 218 yards passing per game (15th in the league).
Moreover, the Bears continue to hurt their own cause with untimely penalties. They were flagged nine times against Atlanta, and most of the infractions were false starts or offsides violations that either turned third-and-short into third-and-long, or gave the Falcons a key first down.
The Bengals had momentum at halftime of their loss to the Texans after rebounding from a slow start to take a 17-14 lead. But they let the Texans score on their first second-half possession, and they seemed to take on their familiar self-destructive look from there. They lost two fumbles and Carson Palmer had an interception.
Cincinnati has an uncanny knack for getting in its own way, even in the games it eventually wins. Although the Bengals' Week 1 loss to the Denver Broncos can be chalked up to a fluke play, their wins over the Packers and Ravens were both jeopardized by late mistakes that could have been fatal. They also let the dreadful Cleveland Browns push them to overtime before finally pulling out a 23-20 win.
In other words, this game seems to involve two teams that are difficult to trust if you are backing them with your cash, though a case can be made for either side.
The case for going against the steam: Because you can trust Carson Palmer more than Cutler, who has cost his team dearly in the early going. The Bears acquired Cutler with the thinking he would be the difference-maker for their stagnant offense. Instead, they have won games despite him, not because of him.
You have to wonder if some Chicago fans are longing for the days of Kyle Orton, who is now playing mistake-free football in leading the Denver Broncos to a 6-0 start. Cutler's reckless ways - he already has thrown seven interceptions - cost Chicago its season-opener against Green Bay, and his two picks against the Falcons both halted promising drives, one of which was in the red zone.
Cutler doesn't appear to be much of a natural leader, and at times looks as though he is more concerned with showing off his arm strength than with winning games. After he throws an interception, he can often be seen sulking off the field and scolding a teammate, or shaking his head in disgust. Moreover, the Bears are just 19th in the NFL in total offense and No. 16 in passing yards (229 per game).
In a game that features two teams perilously close to the "must-win" scenario, it looks like good value to take the home team with the more polished leader at quarterback.
Pick to fade the steam: Bengals -1.5.
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