Successful long-term gambling in football requires the willingness to back bad teams — the ones that the betting public does not want to touch. That is what I told clients on the last day in September with the Thursday Night game to begin Week Four in our play on the Jacksonville. Admittedly, anyone betting this game was forced to invest in a bad team since the Jaguars were playing the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals’ faithful saw their team in a situation that they have not enjoyed in many years.
With the Bengals laying 7.5-points in most spots, it was just the fourth time in head coach Zac Taylor’s three-year year tenure as the head coach of the Bengals that his team was the point spread favorite — and it was the first time that Cincinnati was every laying more than a field goal in Taylor’s tenure. The Bengals lost the two games they were favored in Taylor’s rookie season. Their lone win and point spread cover as a favorite under Taylor was their 33-25 win against the Jaguars last October as a 1-point favorite. With Urban Meyer now the head coach and Trevor Lawrence under center, this was a different Jacksonville team who went into halftime with a 14-0 lead before losing by a 24-21 score. Meyer’s decision to forego kicking a field goal at the end of the first half may have won him fans from the football analytics community live-tweeting during the game, but Jacksonville could have sure used three more points at the end of that game.
Frankly, the Bengals were primed for a letdown after their triumph against their heated AFC North rival in the Steelers. Did Cincinnati win that game — or did Pittsburgh lose it? The Bengals gained only 268 yards. They ran only 42 plays while the Steelers took 77 snaps under center. Cincy converted only three of nine of their third-down opportunities — a disturbing continuation from last season when they were 30th in the NFL by converting 36.2% of their third-down opportunities. But the Bengals were able to pull off their second upset victory of the season after beating Minnesota in Week One as an underdog.
I like quarterback Joe Burrow — and would like him even more if played behind an even average offensive line. The Bengals allowed 48 sacks last season — and they have surrendered 10 sacks so far this season despite the Steelers failing to sack Burrow even once. Cincinnati got the memo to run the ball more after Burrow’s season-ending injury last year just to keep Burrow out of harm’s way. The Bengals are running the ball 52% of the time. But that also means that they are scoring only 22.7 Points-Per-Game while averaging just 291.0 total YPG. I am not sold on Taylor as a head coach, yet another beneficiary for once being in the same room as Sean McVay. With offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, he has assembled a support staff that will not threaten his authority.
Who knows what the future will hold this season regarding how I feel about this Bengals team. Bettors and handicappers make a mistake to get stuck in preconceived notions. Some teams improve, while other teams falter. However, I do not see myself backing Zac Taylor’s team too often if they find themselves laying more than a touchdown again this season. I don’t think I have the courage quite yet for that Brave New World.
Best of luck — Frank.