Week 17 of the NFL season wraps up Monday night with the Cincinnati Bengals hosting the Buffalo Bills (-1, 49.5) at Paycor Stadium (ESPN, 8:30 ET).
After an exciting holiday weekend of action, we have one more opportunity this week to wager on professional football. So which plays do our analysts like the most?
Betting analysts Joe Fortenbaugh, Erin Dolan and Anita Marks, fantasy and sports betting analysts Eric Moody and André 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.
Buffalo Bills (-1, 49.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Paycor Stadium
The Bills and Bengals face off on Monday in a highly anticipated matchup of two teams battling for the AFC's No. 1 seed. The Bills (+165 to win AFC) have already clinched the AFC East and are on a six-game winning streak while the Bengals (+400 to win AFC) have won seven straight games themselves and are in the midst of an historic ATS run. Who do you like to win this one and what are your thoughts on each team's chances to take the conference crown?
Fortenbaugh: I've gone back and forth on this game, so keep that in mind. As of now, I have a "beer money" wager on Buffalo. The swing factor is Cincinnati's offensive line, which has surrendered 42 sacks so far this season (eighth-most in the NFL) and will be without OT La'el Collins, who was lost for the season due to a torn ACL. Buffalo can generate consistent pressure with its front four and should be able to disrupt Cincinnati's offensive rhythm. But, like I mentioned earlier, this is an action wager because I'm not sitting out the biggest game of the year.
Schatz: These are two very strong, well-rounded teams, but I favor the Bills a little bit because they're a bit more well-rounded. Buffalo is still No. 1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings for the season and No. 2 in our weighted ratings that give more strength to recent games. The Bengals are slightly ahead of Buffalo in weighted offense. The difference there is all the running game, as the passing games are equivalent. However, the Bills are significantly ahead in weighted defense, where they rank sixth compared to 15th for the Bengals. I think that the current odds for these teams to win the AFC are very accurate as our simulation has both team's chances at less than 1% difference from the Vegas line. There's no value on either line, really.
Snellings: I'll go with the Bengals for the game and +400 to win the AFC. I've been consistent since the preseason that I liked the Bengals to repeat as AFC North champion and that when everything came together they should be better than last season's AFC championship team. They've dealt with a variety of injuries all season and the injury to Collins is huge, as was the loss of top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in early November.
Still, the team has found ways to overcome injuries to everyone except Joe Burrow. When Burrow was slowed after appendix surgery to start the season, the team looked entirely different and went 0-2. With him on the field at full strength, they've been pretty much unbeatable. As the Bengals' wide receivers, running backs and pass rushers all get healthier, I think they will have everything they need to fight off the Bills on Monday and make another deep post-season run.
Dolan: It's simple. Go with the Bengals money line. Burrow has been very adaptable this season, which has helped improve his game from last season's efforts. Burrow is now releasing the ball at the second-highest rate of his career, which has resulted in his being both pressured and sacked at career-low rates. He has been throwing deep less often so that defenses don't play two high safeties. He has been willing to run, setting career highs in rushes, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns this season. Burrow and this offense have clicked at just the right time.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills may be on a six-game winning streak, but they have beaten mediocre competition -- the Browns, Lions, Patriots, Jets, Dolphins, and Bears -- compared to what the Bengals have faced over that same stretch. Cincinnati is a huge step up in competition for the Bills. The Bengals will win outright at home.
Marks: Give me the Big Cats with the points! The Bengals has been the better team as of late, while the Bills have been sleepwalking through teams like the Bears, Jets and Lions. The Bengals have covered seven straight games, and Burrow has tossed 25 TD passes over his last 10 games. Defensively, they are holding quarterbacks, on average, to a 50% completion percentage.
Moody: I'll go with the Bengals in this one. Cincinnati has one of the few offenses that can battle it out blow-for-blow with the Bills. After losing Von Miller, Buffalo has never really recovered defensively. Burrow will be well protected by Cincinnati's offensive line and the Bengals are 5-0 against the spread in their last five home games. Furthermore, Cincinnati is 16-5 against the spread in its last 21 games against teams with a winning record. This game will be close, but the Bengals are capable of outright winning.
Walder: Give me the Bills. Allen's 2022 performance has been weirdly underrated. He ranks second in QBR and points above average and would be second on my hypothetical MVP ballot. That puts him a notch above Burrow, even as good as the Bengals QB has been. What really moves me on this game (as Fortenbaugh also noted) is that the Cincinnati offensive line, despite being slightly better in the second half of the year, still ranks 30th in pass-block win rate for the year.
Burrow and Josh Allen have been two of the NFL's best quarterbacks this season. Burrow has the second-most passing yards this year (4,260) behind only MVP-favorite Patrick Mahomes. Allen ranks sixth with 4,029 yards. Burrow's passing prop is 282.5 yards, while Allen's is 251.5 yards. Both quarterbacks have a TD prop of 1.5. How do you see these star quarterbacks performing on Monday night?
Fortenbaugh: I'd bet over 251.5 on Allen. Buffalo ranks eighth in the NFL in passing attempts per game and Cincinnati's pass defense is nothing to write home about. They aren't awful, but they aren't elite, either.
Schatz: Because the Bills' pass defense is so strong, I would go with under 282.5 on Burrow. The Bills are seventh in pass defense DVOA, and that improves to fifth if you take away sacks and throwaways. Our projections estimate that Burrow has a 64% chance of falling short of this total.
Snellings: I'd go over for both in passing yards because I expect this game to be a battle -- and both quarterbacks have the ability to pass against any defense. We've seen both Mahomes and Kirk Cousins throw for well over 300 yards on the Bills, and Tom Brady did the same to the Bengals a couple of weeks ago. I look for both quarterbacks to put big numbers on the board on Monday, because I think that's what it will take for their teams to have a chance to win.
Is there anything else you like or are playing in this matchup?
Fortenbaugh: I'll go with Burrow to throw an interception (-129). He's already thrown a dozen of them on the season, with four coming over his last three games. Plus, he will be without Collins while facing a consistent pass rush and a solid pass defense. That's a recipe for at least one pick.
Schatz: I would favor going with Tee Higgins at under 68.5 receiving yards. The Bills have a weakness covering the opposition's No. 1 wide receiver (26th in DVOA) but are strong against other receivers. Opposing No. 2 receivers average just 39.3 yards against the Bills (once we adjust for the strength of the opponents). If someone is going to feast on Buffalo's corners, it is likely to be Ja'Marr Chase. We estimate a 67% chance that Higgins goes under this receiving total.
Moody: Actually, I like Higgins for over 68.5 receiving yards. It has been a big year for Higgins so far, with an average of 6.8 targets and 68.0 receiving yards per game. He leads the Bengals with 1,022 receiving yards. There will be a lot of defensive attention paid to Chase, which benefits Higgins, who has a lower receiving yard prop.
Snellings: I like Allen over 48.5 rushing yards. Allen and his former college teammate, Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson, have both been talking about how excited they are to see each other on the field in a real game. The Bengals also tend to have some vulnerability against mobile quarterbacks, including Lamar Jackson rushing for 58 yards against them earlier this season.
I also like Chase to score a touchdown (-106). He's scored six touchdowns over his last six games, with at least one score in four of those six, and he tends to show up in big games. As previously pointed out, the Bills have some weaknesses against opposing No. 1 wide receivers. Plus, Chase is coming off a game where he not only didn't score, but he also fumbled away a ball that was returned for a touchdown. He tends to bounce-back well from his mistakes.
Marks: I'm with André in taking Allen for over 48.5 rushing yards. I will also play the over in rushing attempts as Allen is just seven carries and 17 yards away from breaking his personal single-season record.