Week 14's Sunday slate brings us an abundance of intriguing NFL matchups, including the Cincinnati Bengals (-6, 46.5) hosting the division-rival Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets going for a season sweep of the Buffalo Bills (-9.5, 43), the Philadelphia Eagles (-7, 45) visiting the New York Giants, and the San Francisco 49ers (-3.5, 37.5) hosting Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
What is worth looking at from a betting perspective? And what are the best plays to help you make smart wagering decisions?
Betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Erin Dolan, fantasy and sports betting analysts Eric Moody and Andre Snellings, ESPN Stats & Information's Seth Walder, and Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz offer their insights into the games with tips and picks.
Note: Lines from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
The Cincinnati Bengals (-6, 46.5), winners of four straight and six of seven, host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The lone loss was to these Browns on 'Monday Night Football' a month ago. Joe Burrow is 0-4 in his career vs. the Browns. Do the Browns have his number, or are you laying the 6 with the red-hot Bengals?
Kezirian: I think it's silly to think Cleveland has Burrow's number because we must assess the context of each loss. The first two losses came in Burrow's rookie season in which Cincy won four games. In fact, the Bengals scored at least 30 points in both and lost by one score; the defense was the issue. The next year involved a game that just set up perfectly for the Browns, involving a week in which they cut Odell Beckham Jr. and essentially faced a must-win situation. And this year's loss was Cincinnati's first game since losing WR Ja'Marr Chase to injury. The offense was completely lost. I am going to give the Bengals a pass on that one. As for this matchup, it's tricky because of the rust QB Deshaun Watson demonstrated in his return. I lean to the Bengals, but it's not my favorite play.
Fortenbaugh: I'm not rushing to lay the -6 because the Bengals are off a monster win over Kansas City. But I would play Cincinnati in a 6-point teaser with Philadelphia. Cleveland's offense has nowhere to go but up after producing just six points last week at Houston. But I still think Deshaun Watson is a good distance from being able to go toe-to-toe with Burrow, on his home turf, with a Cleveland defense that ranks 27th in scoring.
Schatz: I know it is just one game, but I'll admit that I'm discouraged about the Browns based on how unprepared Watson looked last week in his first game back after nearly two years. The Browns' offense was actually really good with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, and I would probably take the Browns and the points with Brissett. But if the Browns' offense is even just average rather than good, their poor defense (27th in DVOA) will give up too many points to Burrow and the Bengals. With the game in Cincinnati, I'll take the home team.
Moody: I'm taking the Bengals here coming off of a huge win over the Chiefs. With Joe Mixon expected to return and Chase not appearing to have any setbacks, Cincinnati will be at full strength offensively. The Bengals have covered the spread 12 times in the past 16 games between these two teams. At home, Cincinnati should be able to take care of business. Watson, in only his second game following a long layoff, is not yet ready to go toe-to-toe with Burrow and this red-hot Bengals team. The Browns' offense struggled against the Texans last week. In their past 10 games, the Bengals are 9-1 against the spread, and they are 8-1 ATS in their past nine home games.
Snellings: I'm taking the Bengals -6, over 46.5. I've been beating the drum for quite a while that the Bengals' slow start was almost entirely due to A) Burrow having preseason appendix surgery and not getting to play at all with B) a completely rebuilt offensive line in C) two games against defenses featuring last year's Defensive Player of the Year (T.J. Watt) and likely this year's (Micah Parsons). Perfect storm. Since then, the team has progressively gotten better, with the one hiccup being their MNF matchup with the Browns that was A) the first game without Chase and B) the exact same day Bengals assistant coach Adam Zimmer was found dead. Again, there are reasons the Bengals did not look like themselves in that matchup.
The Bengals' offense is clicking right now, and with Chase a week healthier and Mixon presumably back, they are close to full speed. They'll miss tight end Hayden Hurst but should have plenty in the tank to put a big number on the scoreboard. I expect Watson to look better for the Browns in Week 2, but I think he still has a ways to go before he's ready to compete with an in-form Bengals team. Plus, the Bengals have been hearing ad nauseam how the Browns own them. I think they come out this week and try to prove a point.
Marks: I love the Bengals this week at home against the Browns. The Burrow-led offense has scored on over 50% of its possessions since Week 8 and is hoping to get Mixon back in action. Watson was beyond rusty last week (54% completions, 6 yards per pass attempt, and only 3-for-9 for 37 yards when pressured).
Another big AFC East matchup as the Buffalo Bills (-10, 43) host the New York Jets. New York won this matchup 20-17 five weeks ago. Are you taking the 10 as the Jets go for the sweep, or laying with the Bills?
Schatz: Please give me the Jets +10. I think this line is just too big given how well the Jets' defense has played this year -- and how well it played against the Bills in Week 9. Yes, the Bills will have Jordan Poyer back but perhaps not Matt Milano, and Von Miller is done for the year. Meanwhile, the Jets look so much better with Mike White at quarterback instead of Zach Wilson. The Bills are still No. 1 in DVOA, clearly the better team, but this line should really be more like 7 or even 6.5.
Kezirian: I like the Jets, too. The Bills remind me of the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs, who ultimately finished 8-11 ATS, including the playoffs. The offensive numbers are impressive, boosted by a stellar quarterback, but the Bills also have a knack for playing down to their opponent. Entering this season, Buffalo was on a ridiculous run with nearly all wins coming by double digits. However, four of this season's nine wins are by single digits, and it is a respectable 6-5-1 ATS. I think the Jets with Mike White are decent offensively to go along with a strong defense.
Moody: I'm taking the 10 and backing the Jets. Even though it's difficult to imagine New York winning its second consecutive game against the Bills, the Jets are very capable of staying within the current number, especially with White rather than Wilson under center. New York's defense is excellent at stopping the run, has a great pass rush and a very strong secondary. Although the Jets might not be able to completely stop a Bills offense that ranks among the top five in total yards and points scored per game, they can slow them down. The Jets are 4-0 against the spread in their past four games after a straight-up loss.
Snellings: Lump me among those taking the Jets and the points. In what should be a defensive-oriented game, 10 points seems like too large of a spread. I think the Bills win, and they might start to look better as they approach the playoffs, but 10 is too many.
Marks: I like the under in this matchup. The Jets' defense is allowing a league-low 26.6 yards per possession this season, opponents are scoring on only 30% of their offensive drives, and neither team's offense scores well inside the 5-yard line. Bad weather is expected in Buffalo on Sunday (30 degrees, snow, wind gusts up to 15 mph). The under is the play here!
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What are the most important things our analytics say?
Walder: Here are three sides against the spread that our Football Power Index likes.
FPI prediction: Cardinals by 4.1
The best unit in this game is the Patriots' defense, by faaaaaar. But! The worst unit in this game is the Patriots' offense. And there's an imbalance between those two things: Offense is more predictive than defense. So having had the better offense (even though a now-healthy Kyler Murray missed a couple of games) does move the needle to Arizona here. Even if you don't buy the Cardinals being 4-point favorites, I'm not sure why we shouldn't think of these teams as being even, with the Cardinals as slight favorites at home. Remember the Cardinals are coming off a bye, too.
FPI prediction: Chargers by 1.8
FPI is showing restraint on the Dolphins now after they were contained by the 49ers. I'll be honest, this one scares me because I'm a believer in Miami's offense and think we'll look at the San Francisco game as a blip -- and I think the Chargers have shown us they are mediocre long enough for us to believe it. But! The model wants what it wants. And it wants the Chargers. At least you're getting the hook.
FPI prediction: Ravens by 2.1
In contrast to the previous pick, I love this one because I consider myself a founding member of the Tyler Huntley fan club. Huntley not only plays a similar style to Lamar Jackson, but he's also a pretty good quarterback, in my opinion! A top-32 QB, I'd say. He was excellent in college and has proved himself a capable backup in the NFL too. Clearly FPI, which is often overly skeptical of backup QBs, agrees.
What is your favorite bet for Sunday?
Fortenbaugh: I'd lay the -3.5 with San Francisco over Tampa Bay. I know all the talk will be around rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, but my primary focus is on Tampa Bay. Specifically, had the Saints and Rams not completely mismanaged their respective end-of-game scenarios against the Bucs, Tampa Bay would have lost eight of its past 10 games. The offensive line is in terrible shape and the Bucs have got an aggressive Niners pass rush on the other side of the country with just six days to prepare.
Schatz: Whether the 49ers win or lose vs. Tampa Bay, let's go with over 37.5 on that game. Yes, the 49ers' defense is outstanding, but takeaways might also put the 49ers in good field position to score. It will surprise anyone who didn't watch the last couple minutes on Monday night, but the Buccaneers still have an above-average passing game by DVOA. They also are the fastest-paced offense in the NFL, and more plays mean more points. That 37.5 total is very low. Even with that great defense, the 49ers have gone over this total in seven of their past eight games.
Snellings: I like Vikings at Lions over 51.5 points. The Lions have been involved in video game scoring contests all season, and their offense is really clicking of late. They're averaging 31.8 PPG over their past four contests, with the over hitting in three of the four and the only non-over as a 49-point total with the Giants in which New York managed only 18 points. If the Vikings do nothing else, they can score, and they'll have to put points on the board to stay with the Lions. I think they will.
Marks: Besides the Bengals, I also like the Lions -2 against the Vikings. Detroit is 3-1 its past four games and has covered five straight ATS. Offensively, the Lions are getting healthier and are scoring TDs on 75% of their red zone possessions over the past four. Jared Goff should have a field day against a Vikings secondary that has given up the most passing yards to opposing QBs.
What is your favorite player prop for Sunday?
Schatz: Garrett Wilson over 61.5 receiving yards (-115). The Bills rank 27th in DVOA against WR1s, and Wilson already had a 92-yard game against them in Week 9 with Zach Wilson as his quarterback. He should do that well again now that Mike White is throwing the passes.
Walder: Jadeveon Clowney over 0.25 sacks (+275 at DraftKings). Clowney has just 1.5 sacks on the year, but this is a heck of a price considering he's going against the Bengals offensive line -- which has played better the past two weeks but still ranks 29th in PBWR for the season -- and Joe Burrow, who takes sacks at a slightly above-average rate. My model makes the chance that Clowney clears a quarter sack at 39.5%, so this is a great value.
Moody: Jared Goff over 1.5 passing touchdowns (-142). Goff has performed well at home this season, especially with his cast of receiving playmakers. The Vikings' defense has allowed 283.6 passing yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. That's the most in the league. Goff is averaging 269 passing yards and 2.4 passing touchdowns per game at home.
Snellings: Burrow longest passing completion over 38.5 yards (-113). Chase is back and healthy, and he has a reception of at least 40 yards in his past three contests. Tee Higgins had a 41-yard reception the last time the Bengals faced the Browns, and Tyler Boyd has three games with at least a 43-yard reception. Plus, Burrow is just locked in right now, and he has to be tired of hearing how much he can't beat the Browns. I'm expecting some fireworks.
Marks: Tony Pollard anytime TD. The Cowboys are going to destroy the Texans on Sunday -- hence the 17.5-point spread. Pollard has scored eight TDs in his past five games, and I anticipate that number to increase against the Texans on Sunday.