LAS VEGAS — After that debacle of a season opener in which it committed five turnovers and its quarterback was dumped on his behind seven times in a 23-20 overtime defeat at home to Pittsburgh, look who’s jumped off the mat.
Cincinnati and quarterback “Smokin’ Joe” Burrow own a five-game winning streak and are sitting pretty atop the AFC North with Baltimore at 9-4.
“The Bengals have hit their stride and are firing on all cylinders,” says Vinny Sanzare, director of race and sports at the Golden Nugget. “And look at their last four weeks; if they win out, they can get the top seed.
“Right now, they’re tied with Baltimore, which has the tie-breaker. But after this week, Cincinnati is at New England, then plays host to the Bills and Ravens. If they win out and KC stumbles, the Bengals could be the one seed.”
The Chiefs are in Houston this weekend, then get Seattle and Denver at home, before finishing in Vegas against the Raiders.
“Obviously, Kansas City will be favored in all of those games,” Sanzare says. “But if they should take a misstep and the Bengals win out, Cincinnati has a path to that one seed.”
Next on the docket for the Bengals are the Buccaneers in Tampa on Sunday. Cincy is an NFL-best 10-3 against the spread (ATS), while the Bucs are a league-worst 3-9-1. The Nugget has the Bengals favored by 3.5 points.
The surest deal on this week’s NFL menu, yes?
“Well, you know what they say whenever something looks a sure thing,” Sanzare says. “You just don’t know. But, yeah, the Bengals are hot. Maybe they’ve lulled some people to sleep after starting 4-4.”
In those first eight games, foes sacked Burrow 29 times. His front line has polished its act, though, allowing only six sacks during this five-game winning streak.
In this hot run, Burrow has thrown for 10 touchdowns and had only three passes picked off (among 168 attempts).
At most shops, Philly quarterback Jalen Hurts is the current leader at -150 for NFL MVP honors, with the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes placing at +200. Burrow, at +800, has eked into the show position.
After missing four games with a hip injury, receiver Ja’Marr Chase returned to the Bengals two weeks ago and has caught 17 passes (on 23 targets) for a total of 216 yards.
With a 15-yard TD catch, he opened last week’s scoring in a 23-10 victory over Cleveland.
Sanzare praises how receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd played in Chase’s absence. Higgins snatched 26 passes for 371 yards and a pair of TDs, while Tyler caught 12 for 140 yards and a touchdown.
“So Burrow has a lot of weapons. The main thing is he’s getting a bit better protection. The key for him is having time, which is doing nothing but boosting his confidence, which already is pretty high.
“You can tell he’s a pretty confident guy.”
Cincinnati Bengals (9-4, 10-3 ATS) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7, 3-9-1 ATS)
Games involving these two are a combined 18-7-1 to Under this season.
NFL · Sun (12/18) @ 4:25pm ET
|Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida|
Somehow, sub-.500 Tampa Bay is alone in first place in the NFC South.
Seems cyclical, says Sanzare, that a division or two play out this way. He laid out a simple way in which the Bucs, Atlanta, Carolina, and New Orleans could all be separated by one game after this weekend.
BetRivers had Tampa Bay as the -278 favorite in the division, followed by +300 Carolina, +1400 Atlanta, and 50-to-1 New Orleans.
“And it wouldn’t shock me,” he says, “if whoever emerges out of that division gets the home playoff game, and they win it.”
Miami Dolphins (8-5, 6-7 ATS) at Buffalo Bills (10-3, 6-6-1 ATS)
Off a tough West Coast swing,in which they lost to the Niners in San Francisco and the Rams in Los Angeles, the Dolphins shuffle off to Buffalo for this Saturday evening affair.
One forecast calls for two days of intermittent snow and sleet, a 50% chance of precipitation up till noon Saturday, then 60%-plus the rest of the day, 30 degrees at kickoff, and a steady low-grade wind throughout the game.
Having beaten the Bills, 21-19, in Miami, the Dolphins are seeking just their second season sweep of their AFC East rival in 11 years.
“I think this will be a tight one,” Sanzare says. “I think Buffalo will pull it out. It might not necessarily cover … but I think the Bills come away with the win.”
New York Giants (7-5-1, 9-4 ATS) at Washington Commanders (7-5-1, 7-5-1 ATS)
Sun (12/18) @ 8:20 p.m. ET
FedEx Field, Summerfield, MD
Commanders -4.5, Total 40
Two weeks ago, these two played a forgettable 20-20 draw in Jersey.
However, the Commanders went into their bye week having gone 3-0-1 in their previous four weeks, while the Giants remained in Jersey only to get pummeled by Philly, 48-22.
Washington has racked up more than 1,400 yards of offense in its past four tilts, and the Giants have allowed more than 1,600 in their previous four.
Commanders fans can thank Taylor Heinicke, who has gone 5-1-1 since taking over at quarterback for Carson Wentz.
He’s done nothing fancy and hasn’t thrown for 300 yards, but the Old Dominion product has been steady, with nine TDs and five picks.
Nothing spectacular, just steady.
Combined, tailbacks Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson have one triple-yardage game this season. They’ve totaled 1,000 yards and five TDs. Receiver Jahan Dotson missed five games but leads the team with five touchdowns.
Also read: Giants vs. Commanders odds and prediction
Tennessee Titans (7-6, 8-5 ATS) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-6, 8-5 ATS)
Sun (12/18) @ 4:25 p.m. ET
SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, CA
Chargers -3 (Even), Total 46.5
This total opened at 45.5 at the Nugget and quickly got bet up to 47.5.
“Usually that’s public movement,” Sanzare says. “The public loves the Overs.”
By Thursday, it had come down a point.
Two days after losing in Philadelphia, the Titans’ hierarchy sacked general manager Jon Robinson. Then, Tennessee lost its third consecutive game last week at home to Jacksonville, 36-22.
For the first time in five games, tailback Derrick Henry hit triple-figure yardage last week with 121 and scored a touchdown. But it wasn’t enough.
“Both of these teams are enigmatic,” Sanzare says. “You don’t know who’s going to show up. In Tennessee, there’s a little bit of turmoil, but there’s still time to right the ship.
“The Titans are leading their division. Thing is, they’re just heading in the wrong direction. Jacksonville is coming up a bit and could be a threat.”
The Jaguars play host to Dallas on Sunday, and Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence has 10 TD passes with no interceptions over his past five games.
Tennessee (7-6) has a two-game edge over the 5-8 Jaguars.
NFL Week 15 betting picks and predictions: Titans (+3) vs. Chargers
Philadelphia Eagles (12-1, 8-5 ATS) at Chicago Bears (3-10, 4-8-1 ATS)
Sun (12/18) @ 1 p.m. ET
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Eagles -9, Total 48.5
Bears games have finished 9-4 to Over this season, and their first-half Overs have delivered even more profit at a 10-3 clip.
This sets the angle for this game as Philly tilts, too, are 9-4 to Over. A combined 18-8 with an ROI of 9.2 units?
An average of 62.7 points have been tallied in the past three Eagles games and 57.5 in the Bears’ previous six.
One forecast calls for below-freezing temperatures all game, cloudy with no precipitation, and a 13-mph wind dissipating as the game progresses. Early action has nudged this total from 49 to 48.5.
“Geography and the calendar,” Sanzare says. “People see a December game in Chicago and just think, ‘Well, that’s going to slow things down.’ Nothing has really slowed the Eagles this year.”
Philly leads the NFL with a first-half average of 19.2 points this season, which has pumped to 24 over its past three games. The Bears have averaged 14.3 in the first 30 minutes of their past three tilts, tallying 16 last time out.
Look ahead: Cowboys favored vs. Eagles in Week 16
Detroit Lions (6-7, 9-4 ATS) at New York Jets (7-6, 8-5 ATS)
Sun (12/18) @ 1 p.m. ET
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Pick’em, Total 44.5
The Lions have been a profitable play this year and for only the third time in 29 seasons, they are poised to finish above Green Bay in the NFC North.
Away from Motown, however, they have had issues to which their -0.124 points-per-play (PPP) margin — fourth-worst in the league — attests.
None of the Jets’ past four foes have gained 300 total yards, yet New York won only one of those games. Does Sauce Gardner need to be a catalyst on that side of the ball, too?
Three different quarterbacks have started at least three games for the Jets. Mike White (ribs) took several shots last week at Buffalo, but he sounded as if he’ll be good for Detroit.
At 5-2, Zach Wilson has been the Jets’ most successful quarterback and in mid-week, head coach Robert Saleh elevated him from the inactive third-string to backing up Wilson (over Joe Flacco).
Sanzare credits Jamaal Williams, Detroit’s sixth-year tailback out of BYU who had a four-game scoring stretch with six touchdowns, snapped last week at home against the Vikings.
NFL Week 15 betting trends: How gamblers are playing playoff bubble teams
New England Patriots (7-6, 7-5-1 ATS) at Las Vegas Raiders (5-8, 6-7 ATS)
Sun (12/18) @ 4:05 p.m. ET
Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
Raiders -1, Total 44.5
By Thursday, most books had this listed as a Pick’em, some had the Raiders as a slim favorite, and one had the Patriots favored.
“I think people are kind of disappointed in the Raiders,” Sanzare says. “They had an opportunity against the Rams and, again, let it get away.”
For an NFL-record fourth time, Vegas had a double-digit second-half advantage and lost.
“Hard to figure out. One break doesn’t go their way or there’s an ill-timed penalty, and it just seems to open the floodgates. The opponent takes advantage every time.”
The Patriots, who own a six-game winning streak over the Raiders, have the edge on the last AFC playoff spot over the Jets.
“They’re not out of the woods,” Sanzare says. “But with Bill Belichick, that’s obviously an advantage. He knows how to navigate the season and get you in there.”
NFL Week 15 betting tips: Fade the public in these two games
Los Angeles Rams (4-9, 4-7-2 ATS) at Green Bay Packers (5-8, 5-8 ATS)
Mon (12/19) @ 8:15 p.m. ET
Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI
Packers -7, Total 39.5
As soon as we started discussing this dog — no kidding — Sanzare’s pup Oakley began barking. The canine of a sportsbook director knows a stinker when he smells one.
Sanzare himself says the NFL can do only so much with its TV flexing that altering the day of a game is much more of an issue than changing a time but keeping it on a Sunday.
Baker Mayfield wove some magic in his Rams début last week, with two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that beat the Raiders, 17-16.
But Sanzare, a longtime Rams fan, doesn’t believe that can continue on the tundra, where the franchise has won only twice in its past 12 visits.
“They haven’t had a lot of success there over the years.”
The Rams, however, drew the early interest at the Nugget, whittling this spread down from 7.5 points.
Christian Watson, the 6-5 rookie receiver out of North Dakota State, has caught 15 passes in his past four Packers games for 313 yards (seven for touchdowns). He also ran an end-around in for a 46-yard score in Chicago two weekends ago.
Over their past three games, the beat-up Rams have yielded eight yards per throw on defense, the fourth-worst rate in the league over that span.