Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1 SU, 5-9 ATS) vs. Houston Texans (8-6 SU, 6-7-1 ATS)
Week 16 NFL
Date/Time: Saturday Night Football, December 24, 2016 at 8:30PM EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
TV: NFL Network
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: CIN +2/HOU -2
Over/Under Total: 41
The Cincinnati Bengals come to NRG Stadium to face the Houston Texans on Saturday Night Football. It's a key game, as Houston was able to salvage victory on Sunday to get to first place in the AFC South in a tie with Tennessee, who they face in the season-finale. But they need to stay on the winning track and on Sunday, they needed all their wherewithal to beat the Jaguars, 21-20, with a come-from-behind win amidst a quarterback change. Cincinnati, trying their best to soldier through the end of a deflating campaign, gave the Steelers a good run in a 24-20 losing effort on Sunday. They held a 4th quarter lead and were coming off two straight wins. If anything, Cincinnati looks at least capable of playing the role of spoiler.
Houston is a strange case, aren't they? On one hand, they can really stink it up. If you just happened to tune into their games at the wrong times, you'll end up wondering how they ever even made it this far—a defending division champion in a position to repeat. Their offense seems stuck in neutral more often than not. A lot of their wins are by really close margins, while they looked really bad in a lot of their losses. It's just easy to overlook a team like this. Sunday was a good example of this dynamic. For most of the game, they looked awful against a pretty bad team in the Jaguars, before pulling it out late.
Sunday started ugly for the Texans. After QB Brock Osweiler threw two picks in the game's first five drives, coach Bill O'Brien apparently hit a wall with the $70-million quarterback, yanking him for Tom Savage. A third-year Pittsburgh Panthers product, Savage entered the game with 19 attempts to his credit. He did fairly well, with 260 yards on 23-for-36 passing. He connected nicely with DeAndre Hopkins, who has seen his production drop this season, along with tight end Ryan Griffin. RB Lamar Miller scored on the ground and has been good in spots this season, but fairly inconsistent. It's going to be hard to go back to Osweiler after a comeback win on Savage's watch and the Texans have confirmed Savage is a go for this week.
The Houston defense has dealt with some personnel issues, with a lot of key players hurt, the most important being the loss of JJ Watt earlier in the season. But they adjusted and are ranked as the league's top defense heading into week 16. Still, they don't strike one as a great "D," as they are ranked 12th in points allowed and are 16th against the run. Their pass-defense is the real deal. They're not always terribly impactful in the pass-rush without Watt or in securing turnovers. But they've still gotten standout play in the front-seven from Jadeveon Clowney (questionable), Vince Wilfork, Benardrick McKinney, and Brian Cushing (questionable). And in the secondary, Kareem Jackson, AJ Bouye, Quintin Demps, Corey Moore, and Andre Hal have all had good moments this season.
The Bengals gave the Steelers a good run on Sunday. Cincy led by as many as 14, before a late Pittsburgh rally allowed them to win the game. The Bengals won 2 straight before that and look to still have some life in their legs. They were on their backs for a prolonged spell, as the perennial playoff presence won just one game in a 7-game stretch at one point. Without AJ Green and Giovani Bernard, along with a lot of other pieces on the injured list, they showed some guts in still being in there fighting at this point of the season. It's been clear for a number of weeks that this season will not end up going beyond week 17 for the first time since 2010.
Andy Dalton didn't have one of his better performances on Sunday, throwing for just 157 yards and an interception. Only WR Brandon LaFell had any kind of real production aerially. Jeremy Hill ran for a TD, but was otherwise unspectacular with just 43 yards on 20 carries. They were kept off the board for the entire second half and really looked ragged as Pittsburgh ratcheted up the intensity. It hurts to be missing Bernard and especially Green, their only game-changing weapon on offense. Without them, they rely on Hill on the ground, with LaFell, rookie Tyler Boyd, Tyler Eifert, and a smattering of low-key role guys. They might be getting Green back this week, which would certainly help. It's a pretty uninspiring group and while Boyd has shown flashes in his rookie season and Eifert is a tremendous talent, it never really clicked this season with injuries and inconsistent play plaguing them all season.
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While the Bengals' offense has certainly had their issues, the defense bears the brunt of the blame for Cincinnati going from a playoff team to a conference also-ran. But to their credit, they've whipped their act into shape somewhat over the second half of the season. In some games, there has been an alarming lack of clutch on this side of the ball, with a slew of close games going the other way. By the same token, the 24 points the Steelers scored on them on Sunday was the most a team has scored against the Bengals since October. In their last 5 games, they're giving up a little more than 16 points a game. The secondary can make plays and they have 15 interceptions on the season. It's just not the same dominant defense we've seen a lot over recent seasons, hence their 5-8-1 record.
Houston has lost just once at home, though some of those games were pretty close. Their last five wins were by a combined 19 points. But they can't seem to create much separation and moving forward with Tom Savage fails to inspire at this particular time. The spread and total suggests a grinding sort of affair and that seems like a reasonable enough forecast. I see Houston's defense stepping up just enough late to give the Texans the small margin they need to win and cover the spread. I'm taking the Texans.
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