The best of the Cincinnati Bengals is hard to ignore.
When the Bengals have been clicking this season, it makes you wonder how high their ceiling is. Last week, the Bengals blasted the Baltimore Ravens 41-21, completing an impressive season sweep. The Ravens were shorthanded, but Joe Burrow throwing for 525 yards was still eye-opening. The Bengals have looked great at times. Consistency hasn't been a strong suit though.
If the Bengals want to be taken seriously, this is the type of game that can provide them all the legitimacy they need. Cincinnati is a 5-point underdog at BetMGM against the Kansas City Chiefs, who look like the the best team in the AFC.
The Bengals can win the AFC North with an upset win, and it's a big fork in their season. With a win, they take the division and more than that, they'll be viewed as a dangerous playoff team. Burrow keeps getting better. He has some great skill-position players around him. The Bengals have looked fantastic in their wins over the Steelers and Ravens this season, but beating the Chiefs would take them to a new level in terms of public perception. Meanwhile, a loss could leave them playing the Cleveland Browns in Week 18 with the AFC North title on the line. The Browns already beat the Bengals decisively once this season.
The Chiefs need to keep winning too. Because the Chiefs lost to the Tennessee Titans earlier, they don't have much margin for error in the chase for the No. 1 seed. Kansas City leads the Titans by one game for the best record in the AFC, and the only way to make sure it clinches the top seed is to win out.
Maybe it's giving the Bengals too much credit for looking great against a severely shorthanded Ravens team last week, but I like Cincinnati and the points. Maybe it's still a year early for the big Bengals breakout, but we've already seen some signs of it this season. A win on Sunday would change how we think about Cincinnati right before the playoffs.
Here are the picks for Week 17, with the spreads from BetMGM:
Falcons (+14.5) over Bills
Even though the Bills have the AFC East title in their sights, doesn't there have to be some letdown after the big Patriots win last week? On the other hand, the Bills have done very well as big favorites. Still, taking more than two touchdowns seems wise.
Bears (-6) over Giants
If you've watched the Giants over the last three weeks, either you've sworn off betting on them the rest of the season or you enjoy self-flagellation. I can't think of a worse way to spend three hours than to have to root on these Giants as they play out the string.
Titans (-3.5) over Dolphins
I've gone back and forth on this one. Ultimately, I think the return of A.J. Brown gives the Titans some answer to their offensive woes. Also, the Dolphins deserve credit for a seven-game winning streak but everyone knows this hasn't come against the toughest lineup of teams. This is a surprisingly big game in the playoff picture.
Raiders (+6.5) over Colts
The issue with making picks on Thursday the past few weeks is not knowing what the news cycle will bring. Will Carson Wentz play? Which of the Colts' offensive linemen will be available? Will Darius Leonard be able to return? Is anyone else hitting the COVID-19 list? Not knowing the answer to any of these questions, I'll take the points. I don't want to pick the Colts as nearly a touchdown favorite and have to rely on Sam Ehlinger at QB.
Patriots (-15.5) over Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence hasn't thrown more than one touchdown in a game since Week 1. He hasn't thrown a touchdown in four straight games and seven of the last eight. That's 273 attempts over eight games with one passing touchdown. I'm sure it'll get a lot better going against a Bill Belichick defense this week.
Buccaneers (-13.5) over Jets
I tried fading the Bucs last week, looking at who they had out and how many points they were laying. They haven't been quite as great on the road either. Then they beat the Panthers 32-6. I won't be making the same mistake this week. Bucs will get another big win.
Eagles (-3.5) over Washington
I am fighting the urge to take the team that looked the worst last week. The NFL changes week to week, we all know that, and rarely is a team as bad (or as good) as it looked the previous week. But Washington just isn't giving me any reason to take them against an Eagles team that has its eyes on the playoffs.
Rams (-3.5) at Ravens
I don't know how the Ravens can compete in the secondary. They gave up 525 yards to Joe Burrow. Now they're going to slow down Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson Jr.? Matthew Stafford will be motivated after a bad game, too. If the Rams don't score 30 I'd be surprised. The Ravens are just too beat up right now.
Broncos (+6.5) over Chargers
I don't love backing Drew Lock. The Broncos offense was entirely uncompetitive with him at quarterback last week. But the Chargers are the Chargers. You should never trust them (remind me of this next summer when I'm buying into Chargers offseason hype yet again).
Texans (+12.5) over 49ers
I'm assuming Trey Lance starts. It would be weird to rush Jimmy Garoppolo back from a thumb injury. We've seen Lance get extended playing time twice and it wasn't great. I like his talent, but I don't know if he's ready yet to step right in for the first time in weeks and lead a blowout win. Besides, the Texans have been competitive lately with Davis Mills playing well at quarterback.
Cardinals (+5.5) at Cowboys
I'll often take sides like this: One team has looked awful lately and the other played perhaps the best single game of any team in the NFL this season. We forget that the Cardinals were 10-2 before a three-game losing streak and it's not like they're incapable of turning it back around. I've said my piece on the Cowboys this week. This is the recency bias Super Bowl.
Saints (-6.5) over Panthers
The Panthers once looked like a playoff team, to the point they were trading for Stephon Gilmore like they were contenders. That seems like a decade ago, maybe more.
Lions (+7) over Seahawks
You should be believing in the Lions by now, at least when it comes to covering spreads. This is a very easy pick against a Seahawks team that just isn't very good.
Vikings (+6.5) over Packers
I don't buy that the Packers are overrated. They're a very good team capable of winning it all. It's just too many points in this spot. Green Bay's incredible record against the spread was bound to even out, and that regression has started with two straight wins by a combined three points.
Browns (-3) over Steelers
It's hard to get behind the Steelers again after last week. I get that's buying into recency bias too, but I wonder if the Steelers have simply run out of gas.
Last week: 10-6
Season to date: 133-106-1