Week 2 Thursday Night Football Preview: Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals Betting Advice
Published on September 13, 2017
It’s hard to believe that we’re already one week into the NFL regular season.
With the action kicking off last Thursday – a dominant offensive performance by the Kansas City Chiefs and rookie sensation Kareem Hunt to catapult over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots – last Sunday gave us our first full day of NFL action in over 35 weeks.
Aside from a tough, hard-fought game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers and a handful of other moments, the action we saw in Week 1 did little to settle lingering questions about the quality of NFL football and the plummeting television ratings.
Naturally, everyone realizes that teams need time to round into regular season playing shape.
With the new practice schedules formulated the way that they are, the month of September in the National Football League has become, in essence, another month of preseason football. With so few padded practices, teams are really unable to prepare their young players for what the speed of the game will be in live action, and things like tackling and ball security suffer greatly early on.
In many cases, teams don’t even have their final personnel packages figured out until well into the regular season. And with no film on opposing teams, offensive and defensive coordinators need at least a few weeks in order to figure out what the tendencies are for the opposing team and to establish game plans accordingly.
For this reason, try not to get too discouraged about the terrible football we saw last weekend.
At the same time, however, it’s hard to ignore this Thursday Night Football matchup that the NFL has scheduled for Week 2. Considering what a bad rap NFL Network’s flagship primetime program has gotten over the last several seasons, it’s pretty inexcusable that they follow up a Week 1 game that could potentially foreshadow the AFC Championship game with Texans-Bengals in Cincinnati.
Even with the Jets, 49ers, Giants, and even the Seahawks all failing to score a touchdown, and even with the Indianapolis Colts losing by 37 to a team that won 4 games last season (the L.A. Rams), the Texans and the Bengals were unquestionably the two biggest disappointments in Week 1.
During the 8-game early slate on Sunday, Houston and Cincinnati were the last two teams to be shut out.
The Bengals, of course, were shut out for the entire game, failing to score any points at all and posting a big fat zero in the stat column. In Week 1, Cincinnati was the only team in the entire league (save the Buccaneers and the Dolphins, who didn’t play at all due to the weather in Florida) who failed to score any points. This was the first opening day shutout for the franchise in a whopping 38 years.
But even with how terrible the Bengals were, the Texans might take the cake for the worst performance of Week 1. At least Cincinnati can fall back on the fact that they played a quality opponent, in the Ravens. Not to mention that the entire city of Houston (and much of the southeast corner of Texas) was very emotional tuning into this game after living through the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
But Houston still gave up 10 sacks on offense (after averaging 4.1 per game last season) and gave up 155 rushing yards on defense (after averaging less than 100 last season) against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And let’s not forget that both teams lost at home, wetting the bed in front of their own fans.
And now, we lucky fans get to watch these two bed-wetting teams play again after a scant 96 hours of rest. It’s almost as if the NFL were adding insult to injury: after changing the rules for preseason football so much in the direction of player safety as to make teams woefully unprepared for the season, the league now follows up the abysmal Week 1 action with a Color Rush game that has no business on TV.
We’d much rather see good football than colorful uniforms.
But if there’s one way to make a bad football game more enjoyable to watch, it’s by wagering on it. Some games may not be very fun to watch, but making money is always fun.
Let’s take a look at the following bets for this Week 2 Thursday Night Football Matchup between the visiting Houston Texans and the Cincinnati Bengals:
For football fans, it may be sad to see the product on the field decrease in quality as the league changes the rules again and again in favor of player safety. But for the professional NFL gambler, it doesn’t matter much. So long as the league exists, there will always be a way to turn a profit!
When we pick games straight-up for moneyline odds, our philosophy is to determine which team will have the heart and the will to stay focused and fundamentally sound for the entire 60-minute contest. In our experience, the team that is able to maintain discipline ‘til the whistle blows generally ends up on top, whereas a slip in momentum will generally end up in a downward spiral that loses the game.
In looking for factors that influence a team’s ability to maintain focus and discipline even when adversity hits, we look to factors that affect the mental aspect of the game, including coaching, leadership, personnel packages (and how they are affected by injuries), and home field advantage.
It’s important to note, though, that home field advantage should play no significant role in this game.
As we mentioned above, both of these teams lost at home last week. The Texans’ loss is especially confusing (purely from the perspective of home field advantage) given that the team had such an emotional opening ceremony, during which there was clearly an emotional catharsis surrounding the trauma and tragedy of Hurricane Harvey and the efforts of Texans’ star J. J. Watt to provide aid.
Instead of a heartwarming win signifying a return to normalcy, Texans fans started booing their team.
In the first half alone, the Texans’ offensive line had given up 3.5 sacks to Calais Campbell alone – the $60 million man who went on to set the Jaguars’ franchise record for sacks in a single game.
After a whopping 6 sacks on starter Tom Savage, the Texans pulled the young man in favor of rookie first-round draft pick Deshaun Watson, selected with the #12 pick overall. By the end of the game, with 10 sacks total over the course of the game, Jacksonville had been rebranded “Sacksonville.”
Anyone could have seen that the play of the quarterback had almost nothing to do with the offensive miscues suffered by the Texans during the first half. For goodness sake, the Jaguars ended up with two separate strip-sack fumble return touchdowns within 15 minutes of real time (though one of them was ultimately ruled an incomplete pass).
Obviously, the Texans’ offensive line was much more to blame than their young quarterback.
Savage looked surly after the game when the press asked him about the booing, saying “I don’t know who they’re booing at. They could be booing at me, and that’s fine. You can boo at me all you want.”
Texans fans should have been booing at head coach (and now de facto offensive coordinator) Bill O’Brien, who has now amply demonstrated that he has zero ability to acquire and coach quarterbacks. Between the Brock Osweiler fiasco last season and benching his starter Week 1, it’s clear that O’Brien and the Texans’ front office are much too beholden to the blind impulses of the fans. It’s inexcusable!
A rookie can’t possibly play better than a veteran backup if neither QB has an offensive line to block.
For this reason, it’s clear that the combination of Bill O’Brien, Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, and the booing Texans fans offered Houston no home field advantage to speak of in Week 1, and assuming that Watson gets the start in Week 2 the team should have no advantage in terms of leadership either, as far as the head coach and the quarterback are concerned.
For his entire career, the Bengals’ Andy Dalton has flitted in and out of the conversation about elite quarterbacks. The “Red Rifle,” as he was once nicknamed, led the Bengals to the postseason in each of his first 5 seasons in the league, making the Pro Bowl in three of those seasons, but failed to win a single playoff game five times in a row. Last year, for the first time, Cincinnati failed to make the playoffs at all.
This scenario has frustrated Bengals fans to no end. Don’t tell Browns fans, but this maddening purgatory on the fringe of playoff contention can be even harder to bear than being outright abysmal.
In this context, laying an egg at home against a division rival was one of the worst possible outcomes.
Andy Dalton has now played the Baltimore Ravens roughly a dozen times over the course of his career. During this entire period, the Ravens have had the same quarterback, the same head coach, the same general manager – most pertinently, even the same defensive coordinator. Dalton should be completely familiar with the team that he lined up against in Week 1.
And yet, despite having the entire offseason and preseason to prepare, and despite being in the best physical condition he will be in all season, Dalton looked like a rookie, throwing four interceptions including three picks in the first half, and two red zone turnovers to boot over the course of the game.
While the departure of offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth hurts, Dalton needs to play better.
So if the Texans could hypothetically be better on the road than at home (given how riotous the fans were in booing Tom Savage out of the game in Week 1), and the Bengals have already lost at home this season, what will be the critical mental factor that will give the game to one side or the other?
We believe that the key to this Thursday Night Football matchup will be the leadership of Andy Dalton. It’s true that both teams have massive issues at offensive line, and it’s true that Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson both struggled last week, but Andy Dalton is a veteran player. He knows that there were no excuses for his abysmal play last week against a division rival.
With both of these teams playing so bad in Week 1, one of them will need to bounce back in Week 2. After all, they both can’t lose. And we believe that even though the Bengals were shut out against a great defense in Week 1 and play the Texans great defense in Week 2, we believe that the leadership of Andy Dalton in trying to bounce back in front of the home crowd will be the difference in the game.
Pick: Bengals to win
We’ve now established our view that after both teams suffered bad Week 1 home losses, the Bengals will be the team to bounce back in Week 2 because they have the more veteran quarterback in front of the home crowd.
Having staked our moneyline claim, it’s time to turn our attention to the bet against the spread. In this case, the question we need to ask ourselves is whether we expect the Bengals to win by more than 5.5 points.
Our philosophy in picking games against the spread is to consider the offenses involved, and in particular how the favored offense matches up against the underdog defense. If the favorite matches up well and is able to keep the pedal to the floor for the duration of the matchup, the winning team generally also wins against the spread.
The Bengals’ offense came away with the worst possible performance in Week 1 – a complete shutout at home. Despite having the full stable in the backfield and a full complement of receiving targets (save wide receiver John Ross, the #9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft), the Bengals still somehow only managed 221 yards of total offense and gave up five turnovers against the Ravens.
The only optimistic spin that we could put on the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive performance in Week 1 would be to say that things were so bad, it’s impossible that they could get any worse.
While this is partially a joke, it’s also partially true. Week 1 football plays tricks on everyone, and experienced gamblers need to have the confidence to stay the course and remain confident in one’s offseason predictions even when the first few weeks of the season don’t give much cause.
In short, the Bengals have a ton of mistakes to correct on offense, and they will make adjustments.
Last year, the Bengals were ranked 13th in the league in yards on offense, averaging around 360 per game. Furthermore, the team never turned the ball over more than twice in a game last season, and ended the year ranked 8th in turnovers lost.
Last season, despite having an offense that couldn’t move the ball worth a darn and thus couldn’t stay on the field for more than a couple of minutes, the Texans’ defense nonetheless ended up raked #1 in the league in yards allowed. If they hadn’t been forced to defend a short field so often, it’s certain that they would have ended up ranked much higher in points allowed, as well.
One of the strengths for the Texans on defense last year was their run defense, even though the numbers didn’t exactly show it.
Despite the absence of defensive team leader J. J. Watt last season, the Texans had a very stout defensive front. As they were so often playing from behind, the Texans got very skewed offensive schemes last season and thus the numbers did not reflect their true production against the run.
Either way, though, the Texans definitely should have been better in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, sporting a reshuffled offensive line and rookie at running back. Even with the skewed time of possession, it was alarming to see the team that gave up an average of less than 100 yards rushing per game last season get hit for 155 total rushing yards.
It was also alarming for Texans fans to see superstar J. J. Watt leave with a finger injury in the 2nd quarter.
Watt’s postseason interview revealed that the tough-as-nails defensive lineman had actually seen bone poke through the skin in his hand – something that would likely cause any normal individual to pass out. In Watt’s case, he just taped it up and went back into the game.
In considering how the Bengals’ rushing offense matches up against the Texans suddenly-vulnerable run D, we find the matchup favorable.
We liked what we saw out of Giovanni Bernard in Week 1, his first taste of regular season action after missing the second half of last season with a torn ACL. Despite notching only 40 yards on 7 carries, Bernard’s confidence in his ability to pivot and make cuts – the type of slashing movements that characterize his game – will only increase, and with it will his workload and production.
At the same time, the Bengals’ controversial second-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon also showed promise in Week 1. The rookie only gained 9 yards on 8 carries but demonstrated that he has gained the confidence of the coaching staff and should run with the starters.
In summary, we do believe that the Bengals will be able to control the ball on offense in this game and that the Texans’ defense will be unable to contain the comeback.
Pick: Bengals to win by more than 5.5
In the above sections, we picked the Bengals to win the game at home Thursday Night against the Texans and to win by more than 5.5. We believe that the Bengals’ ability to establish a run game against the Texans’ defense will be a key to their success.
However, we haven’t addressed whether we expect this game to be high-scoring or low-scoring.
In picking games for the total score over/under bet, our philosophy involves looking at the defenses involved, and especially the way that the favorite defense matches up against the underdog offense. If the game-winner can’t stop the other team from scoring, the game can easily turn into a dogfight and go over the posted total in a high-scoring shootout.
As we prefaced in the introduction above, the Texans were so unbearably bad on offense in the first half of their Week 1 game against the Jaguars that the home fans started booing.
The scene was reminiscent of last season, when Texans fans also booed their offense at home to protest the horrendous play from the $72 million man, Brock Osweiler, who has now accepted a contract to once again serve as backup QB on the Broncos that is worth less than 20 times what he was set to make in Houston.
When Osweiler was benched late in the season last year, the Texans went with backup Tom Savage, who looked competent. If Savage hadn’t gone down to injury, he likely would have gotten the start in the Texans’ playoff game. In preseason Bill O’Brien named Savage the Texans’ Week 1 starter unequivocally, and Savage took more than 75% of the starter reps throughout the preseason.
But despite the amount of preparation put into the Tom Savage game plan, Bill O’Brien benched him.
This is an indefensibly boneheaded play from a boneheaded coach, for which the only explanation can be a pathological aversion to displeasing the fans. There is no logical reason to throw in a rookie and destroy your starter’s confidence in Week 1 when obviously an offensive line that gave up 10 sacks in a game would be completely unable to protect either of them long enough to play quarterback.
And let’s make very sure to cover the fact that Deshaun Watson is not some kind of hero savior.
Technically, it will always be true that Deshaun Watson threw a touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins to cap off his first drive in his first NFL game. But what this true historical fact will forever leave out is what else happened during that drive.
The Texans made the switch at quarterback less than five minutes into the second half of the game. The ensuing drive for Watson technically ended near the red zone with a Jacksonville third-down stop, but a defensive penalty kept the drive alive. Then, Deshaun Watson threw a red zone interception – but this was also called back for a defensive penalty. Then, finally, Watson threw a TD pass.
Later on, Watson threw an interception, lost a fumble, got sacked four times, and somehow managed to go 12 for 23 for 102 yards despite consistently dumping the ball off to check-downs before even going through his primary reads never actually looking farther than 5 yards down the field.
Long story short, we don’t foresee the Texans offense getting better anytime soon.
Bill O’Brien couldn’t even last the duration of a single game without manufacturing another quarterback controversy, and this time he may not live it down. Meanwhile, if the O-line gives up sacks at the same pace they did in Week 1 for the entire 16-game season, they’ll end up with almost 100 more sacks than they did last season.
In the meantime, the Bengals’ defense is well-equipped to handle them. While giving up 5 turnovers last week, Cincinnati also created one of their own. In a pretty play, second-year linebacker Nick Vigil caught a tipped ball for an interception.
Vigil is replacing the currently-inactive Vontaze Burfict, who is suspended for five games for yet another vicious, uncalled for hit, this time in Week 2 of the preseason against a defenseless Chiefs’ fullback who was coming out of the backfield, looking back towards the quarterback for a ball.
— Craig Gates (@CraigGates) August 19, 2017
The Bengals got licked last week, and their defense will be eager to tee off against an undisciplined mess of an offensive line. We don’t see the Texans’ offense challenging the Bengals at all, and for this reason, we like the score to stay well under the posted total of 38.
Pick: Bengals 24, Texans 10
Now that we’ve mapped out a clear prediction for the game, it’s time to think about prop bets. Overall, we believe that the Bengals will win at home by more than 5.5 and that the Texans’ offense will be woefully inadequate to challenge Cincinnati, so the total score will go under.
Let’s take a look and see whether there are any specific ways we can profit off of this view of the game by wagering on prop bets that would support this storyline:
In addition to these in-game prop bets that we will have the opportunity to watch unfold live, be sure to keep an eye out for the following future bets, for which key evidence will be raised during the game:
Experienced gamblers know that every game is an opportunity to gather information for potential future bets that could be placed down the line. Be sure to keep a weather eye for the bets above!
In summary, Week 1 of the 2017/18 season started off more with a whimper than with a bang. While it’s wonderful to be back to football, the games in Week 1 were pretty poor, none more than the Texans embarrassing home loss to “Sacksonville,” and the Bengals’ first ever opening day home shutout.
On a short week, these two teams face off for the Week 2 edition of Thursday Night Football in Cincinnati. We believe the veteran Andy Dalton playing in front of the home crowd will prove the difference and don’t see the Texans’ woeful offensive line and new quarterback controversy putting pressure on the Bengals.
To profit off of this prediction of the game, here are our set of best bets:
No matter what sort of product the NFL puts on the field – and no matter what the ratings are – gamblers will always have the upper hand as far as football entertainment is concerned. Wager on our best bets and enjoy making money, no matter how bad (or good) the game turns out being.