Fri, Jan 3, 8:26pm by Ed Scimia
Match: San Diego Chargers (9-7) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
When & where: 5.00am (AEST) Monday, January 6, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
Wager with: Sportingbet.com.au and receive a $200 free bet
Of the four first-round playoff matches in the NFL this weekend, the clash between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals is the one with the clearest favourite. The Bengals have clearly had the better season of the two, and the Chargers can consider themselves extremely fortunate to even be in the playoffs. But just how much should Cincinnati be favoured by?
Headed into the final week of the NFL season, the Chargers looked all but dead. They needed losses by both the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens in order to have a shot to make the playoffs, and they’d also have to win their game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Sure, the Ravens were underdogs to the Bengals, and the Chiefs would be resting all of their starters, but it was still a stretch.
Then things fell into place, as Miami was upset by the New York Jets and the Ravens lost their game as well. But in San Diego, the Chargers struggled against the Kansas City backups, needing a comeback to tie the game in the final minutes. They then benefited from a missed field goal (and an uncalled penalty for an illegal formation on the same play) from Kansas City at the end of regulation to get an opportunity to win the game in overtime. They then narrowly avoided losing the game on what looked to be a fumble during a daring fake punt, eventually taking the ball down the field and kicking what proved to be a game-winning field goal.
That was the fourth straight win for San Diego, which has relied primarily on its offense to get things done this season. Philip Rivers has been more than solid at quarterback, and there’s no shortage of weapons for him to utilize. Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead have proven to be one of the best running back tandems in the league, while Keenan Allen had an excellent rookie campaign to lead the receiving corps. San Diego’s defense was solid enough – particularly when you consider that they played two games against Denver – but its their offence that makes them dangerous in the playoffs.
The Bengals haven’t garnered the kind of attention you’d expect an 11-5 team to receive this season. Perhaps that’s because they were 7-4 before a strong 4-1 finish to the season, or because they aren’t a particularly flashy team.
But Cincinnati is certainly a team to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball. They gave up the fewest points of any team in the AFC (tied with the Chiefs), while scoring the third most (incidentally, also tied with the Chiefs). That’s the kind of balance that should make any team one of the favourites to win their conference title. They’d probably have a real shot at that if they had won a couple more games and were able to secure home field advantage for more than one game: they were one of only two teams in the NFL (along with the New Orleans Saints) to finish the year 8-0 at home this season.
Cincinnati is a deserved favourite in this game, and when you consider how dominant they’ve been at home, it’s surprising that they’re only favoured by a touchdown. Yes, Andy Dalton looked a little shaky last week – he threw four interceptions – but that was against a better defence than San Diego’s, and looked more like an aberration than a sin of things to come.
Other than perhaps Denver, we think the Bengals are as good as any team in the AFC – but the betting line (and the public) rarely treats them like they’re in that class. That’s why I’ll be betting on them despite the big line, and we recommend that you do the same.
Prediction: Cincinnati 34, San Diego 21
Picks: Cincinnati -7 at Sportingbet.com.au, Over 47
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