Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 13: Bengals vs Chargers

Cincinnati Bengals vs San Diego Chargers: CIN -1 (Pinnacle)

Markets

Talk about a change of perception.  A week ago the look ahead line was Chargers -3.  After Week 12, it re-opened as a pick em, but that still wasn't enough.  Now we have to lay some juice to grab -1.  Some books have moved it up to a full -2.  I might regret waiting, but I like this play at anything under -3.  These teams aren't too far off from each other, but the Bengals are playing better ball over the last month.  Head to head, they hold a few significant advantages in the X's and O's.

Matchups

I didn't think I'd be buying into what the Bengals were selling this year, but the numbers don't lie.   Dalton and Green are going to get most of the headlines, but the area that has impressed me most is what the team is doing in the "make-or-break" moments.

In the first half of the season not too many teams were worse on third down and in the red zone.  The Bengals ranked near the bottom in both areas on both sides of the ball. Fast forward to today and they've moved closer to the middle of the pack with their 3rd down offense and near the top of the league converting touchdowns. Defenisively, they've climbed to the middle of the pack in both situations as well. The Chargers on the other hand can't stop anybody.  When the game is on the line, they fold.  And I'm not just talking about the Ray Rice play because it's been a trend for this team all season long with no signs of improving.

Somehow, Cincy have also improved with their pass defense. Actually I shouldn't say "somehow" because a lot of it is due in large part to their D-line.  Based on adjusted sack rates, the Bengals have the best defensive front in the entire NFL.  The Chargers O-line is in trouble because they are not even adequate, let alone good.

Finally, there is a clear advantage at quarterback.  Andy Dalton is very quietly turning out a very good season.  If he keeps up this pace it won't be long until we are talking about him among the top 10 quarterbacks in the game.  Philip Rivers by comparison, continues to toil near the bottom in QB efficiency rankings.  I was once a big believer in this guy, and I still think he can get back on track with the right weapons around him, but his downward spiral isn't an anomaly anymore.  It's real.

Bottom Line

Can San Diego win this game? Sure. This is the NFL.  Having said that, there's no question who is playing better ball at the moment and it's Cincy's improvement at the critical times in the game that has me most excited for their prospects.

NFL Pick: CIN -1.