NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars
Here's a sentence I'm not sure that I've typed since being hired by Doc's: it's a potentially playoff-important game for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 9. I suppose the same can be said for the Cincinnati Bengals, but they have been a consistent playoff team for the most part this decade.
Jacksonville (4-3) is tied with Tennessee atop the AFC South, with the Titans currently holding the tiebreaker thanks to a 37-16 Week 2 victory. Those two close the season against one another in Nashville. Houston (3-4) is a game back in the division and has the South's best quarterback (for now) in Deshaun Watson but some major defensive injuries/problems. Plus, the Jags already won big in Houston in Week 1.
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So could the Jaguars win their first division title since 1999? Absolutely, although I favored the Titans entering the season and probably slightly still do. Tennessee is +125 and Jacksonville +150 with Houston at +250 at BetOnline . Could the Jags at least earn a wild-card spot? No question. Look around the AFC. The Patriots are going to win the AFC East, the Steelers will the North and the Chiefs in the West. What other teams are that much better than Jacksonville? Buffalo (5-2)? Meh. Miami (4-3)? Worst offense in the NFL and just traded Jay Ajayi. Baltimore (4-4)? No way as the Jags already destroyed them. Denver (no quarterback), Oakland (no defense) or the Chargers (no home-field advantage) in the West? I don't think so.
Shoot, Jacksonville's postseason fate could come down to Cincinnati (3-4) if the Bills keep winning. The Bengals are much more talented than a 3-4 team but got off to that horrendous start to the season before embattled coach Marvin Lewis fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and replaced him with QBs coach Bill Lazor. The Bengals have won three of four since and have looked much better offensively in the process. This starts a three-game road trip in which Cincinnati probably has to go 2-1 to have any wild-card shot.
Bengals at Jaguars Betting Story Lines
The Jags come off their bye week and they are building a truly ferocious defense - at least against the pass. Jacksonville ranks No. 1 in passing yards allowed (161.7 ypg), No. 1 in points (15.7 ppg) and leads by a mile with 33 sacks. It could break the NFL record of 72 sacks set by that tremendous 1984 Chicago Bears unit. The clear issue is against the run, as the Jags rank last in allowing 138.6 ypg. However, the team took a potentially great step toward fixing that by acquiring former Bills Pro Bowl tackle Marcell Dareus for just a sixth-round pick last week. Just two years ago, this guy was one of the three best D-Linemen in the NFL. Why did the Bills essentially give him away? Dareus can be a knucklehead, has had off-field problems and sometimes lacks for motivation. If he's fired, up, look out!
Offensively, the Jaguars resemble a 1980s team in they try to win without throwing the ball. The gameplan is to get the ball to rookie running back Leonard Fournette as much as possible without wearing him down and leave turnover-prone Blake Bortles in third-and-short (and ideally, not having to throw at all) situations. Kareem Hunt gets all the rookie RB love, but Fournette leads the NFL in rushing yards per game at 99.3 and is tied for first with six TD rushes. The former LSU star did tend to get hurt in college and missed Week 7 with an ankle injury, but he'll play Sunday. If he misses multiple weeks the rest of the way, though, forget about Jacksonville in the playoffs.
Most teams in the NFL would kill for running back depth chart like Cincinnati has in rookie Joe Mixon, 25-year-old former 1,000-yard rusher Jeremy Hill and versatile 25-year-old Giovani Bernard. Yet the Bengals average just 78.4 yards on the ground, certainly partly due to a shaky offensive line. Andy Dalton is often under siege and has been sacked 22 times with eight interceptions.
Dalton still has one of the NFL's best receivers in AJ Green, but there's not much else there. Former Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert is done for the year. Speedster WR John Ross was taken No. 9 overall out of Washington in this year's draft, but he has only played in two games due to injury/game shape and is yet to have a catch. The Cincinnati defense has done its part, ranking fifth in yards per game, fourth against the pass and ninth in points (19.3 ppg).
Bengals at Jaguars Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Jacksonville is a 4.5-point favorite (-110) with a total of 39.5. On the moneyline, the Jaguars are -220 and Bengals +180. On the alternate line, the Jags are -4 (-118). Cincinnati is 3-4 against the spread this season (2-1 on road) and 3-4 "over/under" (2-1 on road). Jacksonville is 4-3 ATS (1-2 at home) and 4-3 O/U (3-0 at home).
The Bengals are 2-5-1 ATS in their past eight following a win. The Jags have covered six of their past seven after a bye. They are 7-2 ATS in their previous nine vs. the AFC. The under is 15-3 in Cincinnati's past 18 in November and 11-4 in its past 15 overall. The over is 5-0 in Jacksonville's past five after allowing less than 15 points in its previous game. The Bengals are 3-1-1 ATS in their past five at the Jaguars.
Bengals at Jaguars Betting Prediction
Cincinnati has won four straight in this series, but I take little from that or the last meeting, a 33-23 result at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 9 of the 2014 season, considering how improved the Jags are and how the Bengals have gotten worse. Hill, who now barely plays, rushed for 154 yards and two scores that day. Dalton threw for two scores, as did Bortles, then a rookie. Allen Hurns caught both Bortles TDs, totaling seven catches for 112 yards.
This is one of my favorite total plays of the week with an under, and I like Jacksonville to cover off that bye week as long as Fournette is 100 percent. That's because in Jacksonville's four wins, Bortles has averaged just 23 attempts and 198.5 yards passing. The Jags need Fournette in a big way.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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