Cincinnati Bengals (-2, 41.5 o/u) at NY Jets
By almost any metric, the Cincinnati Bengals (12-4 SU, 12-3-1 ATS) are coming off a pretty successful season. Their franchise QB turned himself into an MVP candidate; they won a division title; they posted 12 freakin’ wins, for goodess’ sake. But a fifth straight Wild Card round loss – this one in truly devastating fashion – sent every Bengal fan into the offseason distraught.
Can Andy Dalton help this long-suffering fan-base erase that memory this year? He’ll have his first chance this Sunday when the Bengals meet the NY Jets (10-6 SU, 8-6-2 ATS) at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford (1:00 PM Eastern).
If Dalton is going to repeat his tremendous 2015, he’ll have to do it with a new cast of characters. Star receiver AJ Green (86 rec, 1,297 yards, 10 TDs) remains, but the team’s no. 2 and 3 wide receivers, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, are both gone. Journeyman Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd will be counted on to replace that production.
Dalton will also be sans breakout tight end Tyler Eifert, who racked up 13 touchdowns last year, for the first four games of the year as he recovers from an ankle injury. Eifert’s backup, Tyler Kroft, is also likely to miss time, meaning Cincy could be down to third-stringer CJ Uzomah.
As the Bengals new passing attack looks for chemistry, the backfield will be all the more important. Jeremy Hill (794 yards, 11 TDs) is coming off a disappointing season, except for his TD numbers. But the early indications are that he has his burst back and could be ready to put his sophomore slump in the rearview. He and Gio Bernard (730 yards, two TDs) are likely to split time, with Bernard getting more of the third-down action.
Even if both backs are at top speed on Sunday, there won’t be much running room. The Jets had the second-best rush defense in 2015 and should be just as good this year with a fearsome front four that features Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams. Sheldon Richardson is another big part of that staunch rush defense, however, he’ll miss Week 1 due to a suspension stemming from an offseason police incident.
Like Cincy, the Jets offense will look a little different this year, but for New York, the biggest change comes in the rushing attack. Last year’s leading rusher, Chris Ivory, has been replaced by ex-Bear Matt Forte (898 yards, four rushing TDs). Forte is on the wrong side of 30, but would have had his fourth straight 1,000-yard season last year if he hadn’t missed three games. He’s also a huge upgrade in the passing game over Ivory, and the Jets may want to start with some screens and short dump-offs to get QB Ryan Fitzpatrick some confidence.
“Fitzy” had a career year in 2015 (3,905 yards, 31 TDs, 15 INTs), but threw three fourth-quarter picks in a Week 17 loss to the Bills, a loss which kept the team out of the playoffs.
Fitzpatrick has never been able to sustain success over his ten-year career. This year will be as good a chance as any with Brandon Marshall (1,502 yards, 14 TDs) and Eric Decker (1,027 yards, 12 TDs) on the outside. As an added Week 1 bonus, he’ll avoid facing Reggie Nelson – last season’s NFL interception leader – who left Cincy for Oakland in the offseason.
Sunday’s game opened as a pick’em but the Bengals are now two-point favorites. There are solid trends for both teams: the Jets are 4-0-1 ATS in their last five as an underdog, and 4-0 ATS in their last four as a home dog. Cincy, however, is 8-0 ATS in its last eight on the road. I’ll roll with the healthier and more intact team, in spite of Cincy’s solid road credentials.
Pick: NY Jets +2.
Photo Credit: By emeybee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.