Hot off their first playoff win since January 1991, can the 3.5-point underdog from Cincinnati stun the world by pulling off an upset in Music City?
$FML's Bengals @ Titans Prop Combo Pick - 1/22
DERRICK HENRY TO SCORE A TOUCHDOWN & TITANS WIN @ +118
Cincinnati Bengals (10-7, AFC North Champions)
Who doesn’t like a good underdog story? Listed as +15000 long-shots (0.7% implied probability) to win the Lombardi Trophy as recently as August, the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals continue to defy expectations. Fresh off their first playoff win since January 1991, oddsmakers are left clenching their cheeks as Cincinnati’s Super Bowl odds have been slashed down to +1500 – still the longest in the field, but that’s enough movement to have Bengals fans and investors alike feeling giddy (+1500 odds imply 6.3% probability, +5.7% vs. pre-season).
Led by 2nd-year standout Quarterback Joe Burrow, the team wearing orange and black features an explosive pass attack, respectable rushing game and dominant defensive line – at least from the perspective of pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
Including playoffs, Cincinnati’s averaged 27.0 points per game (7th most) and allowed 21.9 (17th fewest). While scoring offense has been consistent, their defensive trends diverge when comparing home/road splits. At home, the Bengals allowed 25.9 points per game (7th most). As a visitor, they only allowed 17.0 points per game (2nd fewest) – a stark but potentially meaningful contrast as Cincinnati takes the visitor bench this Saturday.
While there’s a lot to like, Cincinnati has one glaring weakness: run defense. Looking at full-season numbers, they look stellar (102.5 rush yards allowed per game, 7th fewest), but more recently it’s been ugly. In their last 5 regular season games, they allowed 126.4 rush yards per game, which swelled to 154.3 in their last 3 (including playoffs). This week’s opponent, Tennessee, has arguably the most dominant rushing attack in the league, highlighting a major mismatch that the Titans will almost certainly aim to exploit early and often.
A 2nd major concern: while I listed Cincinnati’s ability to pressure quarterbacks as a strength (2.5 sacks per game, 11th most), that narrative will almost certainly be challenged as two starting defensive tackles, Larry Ogunjobi and Mike Daniels, will miss Saturday’s game with injuries. Their absences could prove fatal to Cincinnati’s hopes of an upset given Tennessee’s strengths outlined below.
Tennessee Titans (12-5, AFC South Champions)
With pre-season Super Bowl odds of +2000 (4.8% implied probability), I won’t categorize Tennessee as a long-shot, because we knew they were good – we just didn’t know how good. Despite starting with the 13th toughest strength of schedule and losing superstar running back, Derrick Henry, in Week 8, the Titans consistently persevered, earning key wins over 4 of the 5 remaining playoff teams: Buffalo Bills (34-31 victory), Kansas City Chiefs (27-3 victory), Los Angeles Rams (28-16 victory) and San Francisco 49ers (20-17 victory). Those efforts combined to earn Tennessee the AFC’s #1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. As if home-field wasn’t enough, the Titans also welcome Derrick Henry back this week – a significant development and boost to their Super Bowl chances after he was previously thought to be done for the year.
Led by veteran Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee’s strength lies in its offense. While it doesn’t fully pull through in season-long stats due to injuries, the team is absolutely stacked with superstar talent at Wide Receiver (AJ Brown and Julio Jones) and generational talent at Running Back (Derrick Henry). While these players haven’t taken the field as a unit since October 24th (Week 7), they’re expected to do so Saturday. Not good news for Cincinnati fans.
While the Titans’ season-long stats are muddied by the impact of various injuries, they still averaged a solid 24.6 points per game (15th most) while allowing only 20.8 (6th fewest). Looking at home/road splits, the data shows Tennessee plays much tighter defense at home, allowing only 16.8 points per game in their home stadium vs. 25.4 per game as visitors. That’s more than a touchdown difference, highlighting the importance of home-field advantage.
While the Titans’ defense enters red hot (12.8 points allowed per game in their last 5), they’re known to struggle in pass defense – a weakness Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and the Bengals offense will absolutely have to exploit if they want any chance of winning on Saturday.
On the offensive side, Tennessee allowed 2.8 sacks per game (7th most), which is not good, but also shouldn’t hurt too much in this particular matchup given Cincinnati’s injuries on the defensive line.
@FastMoneyLabs’ Verdict & Pick
While I respect what Cincinnati’s done, all things considered, I feel they’re outmatched. With King Henry back, Tennessee will exploit Cincinnati’s porous run defense, forcing them to stack the box with defenders and leaving their secondary vulnerable to explosive plays down the field.
That said, I’m also confident Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow can keep it close by exploiting weaknesses in Tennessee’s pass defense. Even if they go down a few scores, it’s not unreasonable to expect the Bengals will come roaring back to cover the spread. Cincinnati’s 11-7 (61.1%) Against the Spread (ATS) record this year is 5th best in the NFL – enough to scare me away from laying points.
Instead, I prefer pairing Tennessee’s moneyline with a bet that Derrick Henry finds the end zone. This approach eliminates the risk of a back-door cover by Cincinnati and gets our bet to plus money odds at time of publishing – a win/win.
You can get this at +118 with Unibet!
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