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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 3: Packers vs Bengals

Green Bay Packers vs Cincinnati Bengals: GB -1 (-120) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

In the LVH look-ahead line, the Packers were -1 point favorites. After the weekend, it has re-opened at -2. Some sharper books prefer to keep short favorites out of the teaser window, so they offer it at -1 with a bit of juice. Like the Texans, I'll take that option this week.

Some handicappers will tell you that short road favorites are prime candidates to fade, but some sportsbook directors will tell you otherwise. Due to the built-in home field advantage factor, they have no choice but to offer top teams at a small price. It gets even more interesting when a public team hits a smaller market like Cincinnati.

The Bengals don't have a great home field to begin with, and the Packers are a team that travels well. ESPN's Chad Millman wrote an article on this not too long ago.

So far, 91% of the early bets are on the Packers.

When the Packers have the ball

Aaron Rodgers put up 480 yards of passing on Sunday, and 335 of that came in the first half along with three touchdowns. But let's take a closer look at this. To start with, the Redskins defense played atrocious. They were not good to begin with, but they missed a ton of tackles too. This contributed to lots of YAC for the Packers WRs. 280 of the 480 yards came after the catch.

McCarthy also put Rodgers in a good position to make plays by getting the ball out of his hands quick. In 33 of his 46 dropbacks, he got the ball out within 2.5 seconds. This takes a lot of pressure off a questionable offensive line.

Yet, the offensive line did it's part too. They consistently beat the Redskins up front and plowed the way for a 20 carry, 132 yard rushing game for Starks. With Eddie Lacy dealing with a concussion, this production couldn't have come at a better time.

But the Bengals defense isn't the Redskins defense. Their front seven is much more dominating and they'll give this offense a lot more problems in both phases of the game. Michael Johnson is only second to Robert Quinn in terms of outside rushers through two weeks, and he has guys like Dunlap and Atkins to compliment things.

The issue for Cincy is whether or not they can create turnovers. They might be able to disrupt Rodgers on a few drives and sack him a few times, but they won't get pressure on every play. As Green Bay continue to prove, they know how to compensate for a weak O-line. With a combination of savvy coaching and all-world play from Rodgers, they'll get the ball in the hands of these receivers and let them do their thing. This is a monumental test for Leon Hall in the slot, and Terence Newman/Adam Jones on the outside. They won't have to be outstanding for the entire game thanks to the pressure up front, but they'll need to be at their best in those big moments when Rodgers does get time.

When the Bengals have the ball

There's no way to sugarcoat this - this is a huge, huge test for Andy Dalton. His playoff flops are excusable if he can take his game to the next level this year, but is anybody buying in yet?  I really like what Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard bring to the offense, but they'll need to put up close to 30 points in this game to pull out a win.

LT Andrew Whitworth will need to continue his strong play on Dalton's blindside to keep Clay Matthews at bay. Bernard and Green-Ellis will need to produce enough in the run game to keep the Packers offense off the field. And A.J. Green will need a monster day on the outside.

For all this to happen, Dalton has to be better with the deep ball. He was only 3 for 17 on passes that went beyond 10 yards.  On 46 attempts, he only completed 56% of those passes. Essentially, Cincy have to win this game on efficiency. Dalton doesn't elevate this system, he simply runs it. His athleticism is limited and the arm strength isn't the greatest.

Against a lesser opponent, this systematic formula would be a lot more effective. Against an elite team like the Packers it's not going to be enough.  I still maintain this is an underrated defense in Green Bay. They are multifaceted, young, and athletic.

Bottom Line

As much as I like the direction Bengals are going in, I don't think they are quite ready to knock off an upper-echelon team like the Packers. With Rodgers, you don't have to worry about him being overwhelmed on the road. You can also count on him to overcome a good defensive line. This offense is healthy and can put up points against anybody.

Meanwhile, Andy Dalton will be facing a challenging defensive coordinator for the second week in a row in Dom Capers. Can he take his game to the next level? Possibly. He certainly has the weapons to do so. Yet, Dalton is still in the "prove it" phase .Until I see him defeat one of the elite teams, I'll fade him at a number like this.

NFL Pick: GB -1 (-120).
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