Thursday Night Battle of Ohio NFL Preview

BENGALS STILL UNDEFEATED...BUT BROWNS COME TO TOWN TO RENEW HEATED RIVALRY

The Cincinnati Bengals are off to a shocking 7-0 start in the 2015 season. Even the most optimistic fans weren't expecting perfection this deep into the campaign. This past Sunday's road win in Pittsburgh was a true gut check. But, a danger spot on the schedule is starting to loom very large because hated rival Cleveland is coming to town to renew "The Battle of Ohio."

The Browns would love nothing better than to get their season back on track with a road upset of their rival. Cincinnati better not get overconfident. The whole reason they're 7-0 is because they hit the ground with something to prove! Let's see what JIM HURLEY'S key indicator stats have to say about Thursday's showcase matchup...

Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Cleveland: 2-6 (#14 ranked schedule according to Sagarin)
Cincinnati: 7-0 (#13 ranked schedule according to Sagarin)

They've played comparable schedules...so those won-lost records pretty much tell the story. You could make the case that Cincinnati probably caught a few breaks to be 7-0...or that Cleveland's suffered some bad luck to fall that far off the pace. Even accounting for that, Cincinnati's the better side. The Bengals are clearly a playoff caliber team...with a shot at a first round bye. Cleveland is way too mistake-prone to be any sort of serious contender yet.

Yards-Per-Play
Cleveland: 5.3 on offense, 6.1 on defense
Cincinnati: 6.2 on offense, 5.8 on defense

Cincinnati's defense has been a little spotty, which prevents them from posting a great differential. Plus 0.4 is still pretty good by this season's standards. Cleveland's struggled on both sides of the ball. And, that fading defense is causing real problems for the team and investors. This is no longer a team that plays low scoring grinders that stay way Under. If Cincinnati remains focused...you have a 6.2 offense facing a 6.1 defense in a way that signals a potential explosion. There's nothing "on the field" that should slow down the Bengals.

Turnover Differential
Cleveland: -4
Cincinnati: +4

Cincinnati has been getting the best of it in the risk/reward scenario. That's why they're still perfect. Cleveland's quarterback situation just doesn't allow for consistent sharp play. McCown is prone to take hits...and Johnny Football is always too desperate to make a play when he gets a shot. Big edge to the Bengals if they're focused. If they come in overconfident, this is the category where it's going to show up.

Market Performance
Cleveland: 4-4 ATS (7-1 to the Over)
Cincinnati: 6-0-1 ATS (5-2 to the Over)

We threw in the totals this week because those are fairly dominant Over trends in the parenthesis. Again...Cleveland is no longer a grinder...but the market keeps pricing them like they are. Cincinnati's playing Overs too because of the good offense/soft defense YPP data we were looking at earlier. It had been 5-1 to the Over for the Bengals before the playoff-style war with Pittsburgh.

Note that Cleveland was 4-2 ATS until the poor showings vs. St. Louis and Arizona. Playing back-to-back overtime games vs. Baltimore and Denver really took a lot out of them. Are they getting their legs back? Tough on a short week! Full recovery may wait until their bye. The market continues to underestimate the Bengals on a week-by-week basis. One of many good teams who are even better than oddsmakers and sharps will give them credit for. Has the line finally adjusted?

Current Line: Cincinnati by 10, total of 46

Has it?! Cincinnati is a double digit favorite in a divisional rivalry game. That tells you the market thinks Cleveland will stay out of gas until their bye week. The total of 46 is high for the rivalry...but possibly low for the style of play we're likely to see. Interesting challenge for handicappers who have to focus on intangibles and course changes to make the right call. Will Cincinnati come out flat after the huge win in Pittsburgh? If so, that line is way too high. Will we see a shootout similar to Arizona/Cleveland (54 points) because Cincinnati and Arizona are similar stylistically? Or, will "the Battle of Ohio" inspire more intense defense?

Don't make a move until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!

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Next up in the NOTEBOOK...the long awaited LSU/Alabama game in the SEC. Here's what's on tap on these pages...

*College Football TV Preview...#4 LSU at #7 Alabama
*NFL Sunday Night TV Preview...Philadelphia at Dallas
*NFL Monday Night TV Preview...Chicago at San Diego
*NFL Thursday Night TV Preview...Buffalo at NY Jets

After a look at the stories being told in New England, Denver, Green Bay, and Cincinnati, the airwaves now focus on lesser lights in the Wildcard chase. What surprises are still ahead? The man with the answers is JIM HURLEY!

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Nov

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