Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5, 42.5 o/u) at Buffalo Bills
It’s not that anyone was predicting the Cincinnati Bengals (5-0, 2-0 road) would be bad this year. But with Andy Dalton – who has long struggled with his consistency – under center, most were expecting a middle-of-the-pack finish. However, Dalton has been nothing short of heroic this season, leading his team to a perfect start through five weeks. This Sunday (1:00 PM Eastern), he’ll lead his undefeated Bengals into Ralph Wilson Stadium to face the erratic Buffalo Bills (3-2, 1-2 home).
Just five games into the season, it’s too early to declare Dalton’s problems solved. After all, his biggest struggles have come in Primetime and during the playoffs – two situations he has yet to face this year. But the future does indeed seem bright with the TCU product averaging 9.2 yards per attempt and connecting on 67.5-percent of his passes.
A healthy stable of receivers has helped the Cincy passing game stay consistent. Last year, both WR Marvin Jones and TE Tyler Eifert missed significant chunks of time, and heaving the ball to AJ Green will only take you so far.
Eifert, in particular, has been a godsend for Dalton. The third-year man is second on the team in receiving with 312 yards and is tied for the team lead in touchdowns with five. Last week, he made a massive catch on the game-tying drive as Cincy came back to stun the Seattle Seahawks, 27-24, scoring 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
While the play of the Cincy defense left a little to be desired in the first three quarters of that game – getting torched by reserve RB Thomas Rawls for nearly 170 rushing yards – it buckled down in the fourth, forcing multiple three-and-outs and giving the offense enough possessions to claw all the way back.
This weekend, that unit will be facing a Buffalo team that could be missing some key components, including starting QB Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is dealing with a knee injury and was listed as questionable on the latest injury report. If the mobile pivot can’t go, former first-round pick EJ Manuel will get the start. Manuel started the first four games of the year for Buffalo last year before being replaced by journeyman Kyle Orton; he struggled with his accuracy, completing just 58-percent of his passes and getting picked three times.
The good news for the Bills is that prized offseason acquisition LeSean McCoy should be back in the lineup (which is especially good since standout rookie RB Karlos Williams remains out with a concussion), along with dynamic receiver Sammy Watkins. The added weapons will be huge for the team; even if Taylor suits up, he likely won’t be able to single-handedly produce offense as he has in weeks past. And if the less speedy Manuel is under center, he’ll need all the help he can get against a Cincy pass rush averaging three sacks per game.
Betting this game is a tricky proposition. Buffalo has looked like one of the best teams in the league at times, including during dominant wins over Indy (27-14) and Miami (41-14); but they also got run over by the Pats and Giants at home, and then struggled to get past the 1-4 Titans last week (14-13). Their stout defense should provide a tough test for Dalton, but with their QB situation in flux, taking the high-flying Bengals and laying the 3.5 points looks like the better play at this point in time.
Pick: Cincinnati (-3.5).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped from the original.)
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