Cincinnati Bengals (10-4) vs. New England Patriots (7-7)
Game Info: Saturday, December 24, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. EST (Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA)
Pick: Patriots (+3)
The Cincinnati Bengals enter Week 16 as the NFL's hottest team as they look to extend their six-game winning streak. They've already clinched a playoff berth, and are looking to hold off the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North crown.
Meanwhile, New England comes off one of the most brutal losses in recent NFL history, where they lost to the Las Vegas Raiders on a fumble/lateral as time expired. The loss knocked the Patriots out of a playoff spot, but Bill Belichick and company will look to get back in the postseason picture this week.
The Bengals are coming off a 34-23 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game in which Cincinnati had trailed 17-3 at halftime. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had bit of an odd game. He threw for four touchdowns, but just 200 yards on 39 passes against the Bucs' sixth-ranked pass defense. Most of Cincinnati's scoring was actually set up by its defense taking advantage of Tom Brady miscues which set the Bengals up with multiple drives in plus territory.
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New England comes into Saturday's game a bit banged up. The Patriots will be without wide receive Davante Parker and cornerback Jalen Mills. Receiver Jakobi Myers, and running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are also listed as questionable, with Harris the least likely of the three to play.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are relatively healthy, but they will be without the services of tight end Hayden Hurst and defensive end Sam Hubbard.
The Patriots defense will pose another test for the third-year Bengals quarterback. Belichick's squad ranks in the top ten in both pass and run defense. The forecast also calls for cold and windy conditions. The combination of good defenses and high winds give this one the makings of a low scoring affair.
The Bengals own the NFL's best record against the spread (ATS) at 11-3. The Patriots, meanwhile are a modest 7-6-1. Cincinnati is also 6-2 ATS on the road this year, with New England at just 3-3.
The two teams are also heading in opposite directions recently. The Bengals have covered in six straight games (all straight up wins), while New England is just 1-3 ATS in its last four. The Patriots have also failed to cover in their two games as a home underdog this year.
On paper, this game favors the Bengals. They're the hotter and more talented team. It is then a bit puzzling why they are only a three-point favorite.
While it may not be the obvious pick, I'm picking the Patriots to cover here for three main reasons:
1) The Patriots defense has caused 21 turnovers this year, the sixth-best mark in the NFL. Foxboro is a tough place to play for any quarterback. Couple that with cold and windy conditions, it can be exceptionally difficult for a younger quarterback like Burrow. Yes, Burrow is among the league's best, and I don't expect him to have a bad game. But I also don't know if I can trust him in a close game at Gillette Stadium as much as I can trust this stellar Patriots defense. I expect the Patriots to cause a turnover or two, feed off their home crowd and use their playoff push as pillars in keeping this one close.
2) I can't count out Bill Belichick. After Cincinnati, the Patriots finish the regular seasons against the Dolphins and Bills, two very tough matchups. A loss this week against the Bengals would likely put the Patriots in an extremely difficult position to secure a playoff spot. I simply cannot bet against a Belichick-coached team to be eliminated this early. To me, it's a not a great idea to bet against Belichick in a late-December game in Foxboro with the playoffs on the line. Until he gives me a reason to, I won't bet against him.
3) If it's too good to be true, it usually is. At first glance, a three-point seems like a steal for Bengals bettors. If a spread seems unusual, there's a reason why. I would caution getting drawn in to the low number, as Vegas may know something we don't. Trust me, I've gotten burned before in similar situations and have learned to think twice before going for what may falsely appear to be a lock at first.