As golfer Greg Norman once put it after a disastrous collaboration with swing guru David Ledbetter, “I changed coaches hoping to get to a different level, and I did. I found a level 3 or 4 bars below the old one.”
The 0-3 Cincinnati Bengals could be the Greg Norman of NFL teams in 2019.
Marvin Lewis is gone after several centuries (it seemed) of coaching the Bengals. His finest teams played solid, physical, aggressive defense and special teams, and he was able to develop a good QB in Andy Dalton. But his squads were often undisciplined and unhinged, taking far too many penalties and making too many blunders that ultimately prevented the franchise from going anywhere in the postseason.
That incredible (and dangerous) mistake was followed by Cincinnati taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, putting the Steelers in even easier field-goal range.
Maybe Lewis had to go specifically because of incidents like in 2016. However, at least his Bengals had reached a playoff bid. They could play ball…even if they often threw the ball and the game away for no reason.
New coach Zac Taylor arrived from the L.A. Rams to try to restore pride and discipline to the franchise. Perhaps he has, but Cincinnati is simply playing badly in 2019. The club lost to a diminished Seattle Seahawks team in Week 1, was blown out by the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2, and went on to lose to the Buffalo Bills last weekend as Dalton tossed 2 interceptions. Dalton was also picked-off in the 49er game, but you can’t blame the QB for that – Cincy’s running game was profoundly awful in the 24-point loss.
The Bengals are only a (+160) underdog line-to-win against the host Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football, however, and there’s no doubt that under normal circumstances Mike Tomlin’s team would be more than a 1-to-1.5 favorite.
But the Steelers are 0-3 and potentially headed for a dismal season. That’s not exactly a “normal” scenario in the AFC.
I’ll get back to analyzing a MNF scrum of desperate, winless teams at the bottom of scroll…until then let’s take a look at some upcoming Sunday contests and the Las Vegas lines for each.
Kansas City Chiefs at Detroit Lions
Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes continued to dazzle last week against Baltimore, throwing for 374 yards and 3 scores on 27-of-37 passing attempts. The 2018 NFL MVP is leading the league in yards-by-air once again, throwing for 1155 yards with 10 TD’s and 0 INT’s thus far. Mahomes continues to prove to be a match-up nightmare despite the loss of Tyreek Hill in the opening week of the season.
The Chiefs’ offensive backfield is very fluid apart from an All-World signal-caller, and it was Darrell Williams getting the start over injured LeSean McCoy last week in a somewhat surprising last-second move by head coach Andy Reid. McCoy did get some carries, though, and was effective before aggravating his ankle in the 4th quarter. Both players rushed for north of 6.5 YPC, excellent to say the least, and we could see Damien Williams back in the mix this week as well. Williams and McCoy are listed as questionable for the Lions game but McCoy says he expects to play.
Kansas City’s O-line has also been among the best in the AFC. The 5-man unit is led by 6’5” 320-pound tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who has yet to allow a QB sack on the season.
Detroit hosts KC as an “unbeaten” club at 2-0-1. Motor City was able to get a huge road win in a hostile environment last week in Philly, as the defense and special teams shined in a 27-24 win. Jamal Agnew’s 100-yard kick-return TD made the difference in a scrum in which the Lions weren’t able to find much rhythm on offense.
Kerryon Johnson got 20 touches for the 1st time in his nascent career but was only able to muster up 36 yards.
Matt Stafford was not much better, completing 18-of-32 passes for 201 yards and 1 score. But the Detroit defense was stout, forcing timely fumbles from Miles Sanders and Nelson Agholor en route to the victory.
Gamblers love the Chiefs to prevail on Sunday at Ford Field, driving the visitors’ moneyline to (-360) and the point spread to (-7.5). Turnovers don’t come so easy against smooth offenses, meaning that Detroit will have to stop KC the hard way. But with the line-movement so pronounced, I prefer a pick on the Over (55) rather than Chiefs-to-cover.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
An age-old NFC East rivalry returns to the Big Apple. The New York Giants have a victory on the young season while the Washington Redskins do not, but while the Daniel Jones era is off to a good start in NY, life without Saquon Barkley begins this week.
The star rusher suffered a high-ankle sprain in last weeks dramatic 32-31 in Tampa, and was seen wearing a dreaded boot on the sidelines for the 2nd half. He’ll miss at least a month, and the Giants could see RB help on the waiver wire.
At least the new rookie QB is coming along faster than veteran backup Eli Manning did in his tentative maiden season with the Big Blue. Jones led the team to victory with Barkley sidelined, throwing for 336 yards and scoring 4 touchdowns by ground and air.
Washington is an unpopular (+140) underdog despite the roster issues New York is having. That’s because the club looks to be full of more holes than the OL is able to produce. Terry McLaurin shows promise as a rookie WR, but it’s a matter of time before the blocking breaks down despite ample size and talent on the line of scrimmage. Special teams is nothing special, and the Redskin defense gave up 3 touchdown passes to Mitch Trubisky of the Chicago Bears last week.
I respect Trubisky a lot more than most wiseguy pundits – but the ‘Skins made him look like Peyton Manning circa 2005.
Lean toward the Giants to prevail on the moneyline or ATS (-3).
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Speaking of the Monsters of the Midway, the Bears’ NFC North division is shaping up to be one of the toughest in pro football, and a defensive battle is expected between a pair of 2-1 teams in a 4:25 EST kickoff with a sub-40 point O/U total.
Minnesota has a newfound effective (and consistently called) running game with Gary Kubiak calling the shots, and the Norsemen could be excited about the absence of Chicago DT Akiem Hicks, doubtful for Sunday after a knee injury flared up again vs Washington.
WR Taylor Gabriel, who caught 3 touchdowns last week, also suffered a concussion and probably won’t go for Chicago this weekend.
The Vikings are having a hard time pass blocking effectively, which could be murder against the Bears at Soldier Field no matter how solid the ground game is. Kirk Cousins may have to try to do too much to compensate for a defense that is missing some pieces.
As for the betting odds, sharp line-movement toward Minnesota ((+100) after opening as a 1.4-to-1 underdog)) in addition to the subterranean Sin City point total of (37.5) are numbers which reek of irrational bias against Mr. Trubisky of the Bears. He’s just 1 of those guys who fans love to trash, and all of his good passing performances are seen as flukes while his effective runs are simply seen as a detriment that will cause injury from time to time.
But with Minnesota still a modern NFL team at heart despite Mike Zimmer’s flirtation with power-running, and with Chicago’s pass rush poised to produce sacks, turnovers, and mayhem for the offense to take advantage of on a short field, it’s not necessary to envision Trubisky throwing 5 touchdown passes to imagine the total going way over the market line.
It might rain a little bit in the Windy City but the temperature will be warm and DBs can struggle on a wet field. I like Chicago to win on the shortened moneyline…but I like the Over a hell of a lot more.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
We’re seeing a whole generation of veteran quarterbacks fade away before our very eyes as Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, and others give way kicking-and-screaming to new faces and swift dual-threat rookies.
Ben Roethlisberger can be added to the list of horses headed out to pasture. Yes, I am referring to Big Ben’s season-ending injury suffered in Week 2…but also to the QB and the team’s general lack of effectiveness in opening losses to New England and Seattle. Mason Rudolph has filled in nobly, but an O/U total of (45) points seems to be moving upward for no real reason while moneyline gamblers lean in Cincinnati’s direction.
How about an “intuitive” pick to cap off the NFL week?
The offenses have put up points in spurts, and you can’t brag too much on the Bengals or Steelers on defense. But the hosts will concentrate on playing solid, physical D at home, and Dalton might as well be included in our list of aging and diminished QBs even though he is just 31. He’s been subjected to a lot of wear and tear playing for a flaky franchise over the last decade.
This feels like 1 of those prime-time games that everyone will complain about the next day because it’s too low scoring. Defensive struggles are now known as “bad games” among NFL fans, but whatever you call it, an Under result is what it is.
Look for a weird “15-6” type of final score between 2 of the weaker teams in the American Football Conference. Bet the Under (45) for a low-stress winner on Monday night.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.