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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 8:00 PM

It’s not going to be easy, but the Cincinnati Bengals will be the sixth and final AFC playoff team if they sweep their last three games on the 2012 schedule. Sports bettors must evaluate the true odds for whether or not a 7-6 team can get hot at just the right time as they ponder Thursday Night’s nationally televised game between the Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Heading into the new week, Cincinnati is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the last spot in the playoff brackets. They will play Pittsburgh on the road next week. A win there would deny Pittsburgh a chance to also finish 10-6. And, it would also help the Bengals in the tie-breaker because they would be split 1-1 with Pittsburgh heads-up, tied at 2-3 in the division with the Steelers as well, but ahead in conference action with a 6-5 mark compared to 4-7.

Beat Philadelphia…beat Pittsburgh…beat Baltimore in the season finale, and Cincinnati is a LOCK. There’s no way to miss the playoffs if they win out.

In fact, it’s possible that Cincinnati could lose tonight and still win their last two games to get in because of how the tie-breakers work. Wildcard races often find ways to get complicated!

Winning makes it simple. Can Cincinnati win out? If you look at what they’ve done so far vs. other AFC playoff teams, it actually looks kind of doubtful.


BENGALS VS. AFC PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Cincinnati (+7) lost at Baltimore 44-13

Cincinnati (+1) lost to Pittsburgh 24-17

Cincinnati (+5) lost to Denver 31-23

The Bengals missed AFC Powers New England and Houston in the schedule rotation this year, along with the Indianapolis team that’s virtually assured of the first playoff spot (as long as they beat Kansas City a week from Sunday). The three games they did play vs. contenders were all losses even though two were played at home.

There is good news though. Cincinnati drew the NFC East this year in interconference play. That’s a competitive division…and Cincinnati competed!


BENGALS VS. NFC EAST

Cincinnati (+3) won at Washington 38-31

Cincinnati (+4) won vs. the NY Giants 31-13

Cincinnati (-3) lost to Dallas 20-19

Last week’s loss to the Cowboys came on the final play of the game…a game where Cincinnati won stats but lost a heartbreaker to an emotional visitor playing for a fallen teammate.

That moves the Bengals to 2-4 straight up vs. contenders, with only one blowout loss that happened way back in Week One of the regular season. They are playing competitive ball with competitors, which is better than being completely exposed as a pretender.

You market-minded readers may have noticed that Cincinnati was an underdog in five of those six listed games. They will be a favorite Thursday when they play their fourth and final game against the NFC East. Can they win a game they’re SUPPOSED to win against an Eagles team that has nothing to lose? Let’s run our standard indicator stats and see what they suggest…

CINCINNATI BENGALS at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (8:20 p.m. ET on NFL Network)

Las Vegas Spread: Cincinnati by 4, total of 45.5

The line opened at -3, and has been bet up by both sharps and the public. Squares always love playoff contenders who “need” to win at cheap prices vs. non-contenders. Many professional wagerers sensed that and bet for positioning purposes (knowing they could buy back later on the dog at a better line for a middle). The market is saying Cincinnati would be -7 on a neutral field, and -10 at home. That really only makes sense if you’re using the “must win” boost for the Bengals. The Eagles just beat Tampa Bay on the road, arter losing a nailbiter in Dallas. The early hopelessness of the transition to Nick Foles has faded to the background.

WON-LOST RECORDS (schedule strength according to USA Today)

Cincinnati: 7-6 (30th ranked schedule)

Philadelphia: 4-9 (11th ranked schedule)

Remember that there are 32 teams in the NFL. So, Cincinnati has played one of the easiest schedules of anybody, yet still barely posted a winning record. This by itself suggests they’re not really a playoff caliber team in the classic sense of the word. They would have a losing record vs. a balanced schedule. In the weak AFC this year, it’s possible to make a run at a Wildcard if you catch some breaks on the field or on your schedule. Philadelphia’s season long disappointment has been well documented on these pages because they’ve been slotted for so many national TV games!

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL

Cincinnati: even

Philadelphia: -19

The Bengals do have a big edge here. But, “even” vs. a very weak schedule is actually a negative if you know what you’re going. And, that “even” was boosted by a 4-1 edge vs. the Giants in a game New York kind of gave away right before their bye. Cincinnati has been disappointing in context. Philadelphia has been a disaster in any context. The defense hasn’t forced a turnover in more than a month!

OFFENSIVE STATS

Cincinnati: 355.2 yards-per-game on 5.6 yards-per-play

Philadelphia: 362.9 yards-per-game on 5.3 yards-per-play

Pretty similar performances here, with the Eagles grading out better for the season once you adjust for strength of schedule. Foles isn’t as good as Michael Vick though, so you have to adjust back downward though for the current lineup.

DEFENSIVE STATS

Cincinnati: 328.0 yards-per-game on 5.1 yards-per-play

Philadelphia: 348.6 yards-per-game on 5.6 yards-per-play

Clear edge for the Bengals, which shrinks once you adjust for schedule strength. The Eagles defense had seemingly thrown in the towel a few weeks ago. They did show up last week vs. Tampa Bay though. Maybe the “let’s show some pride” mentality has finally taken hold with the team.

LAST WEEK’S BOXSCORES

DALLAS 20, CINCINNATI 19

Total Yardage: Dallas 288, Cincinnati 336

Rushing Yards: Dallas 49, Cincinnati 146

Passing Stats: Dallas 25-43-1-239, Cincinnati 20-33-1-190

Turnovers: Dallas 1, Cincinnati 1

Third Downs: Dallas 58%, Cincinnati 36%

Vegas Line: Cincinnati by 3, total of 46

This is what we mean by Cincinnati winning stats. It wasn’t a cleans sweep. But, you see a big advantage on the ground, and a meaningful advantage in total yardage in a game with few turnovers. Should have been a win.

PHILADELPHIA 23, TAMPA BAY 21

Total Yardage: Philadelphia 367, Tampa Bay 314

Rushing Yards: Philadelphia 29, Tampa Bay 136

Passing Stats: Philadelphia 32-51-0-338, Tampa Bay 14-34-0-178

Turnovers: Philadelphia 1, Tampa Bay 0

Third Downs: Philadelphia 39%, Tampa Bay 38%

Vegas Line: Tampa Bay by 7.5, total of 47.5

Philadelphia and Dallas were pulling off side-by-side rallies last week…as the Eagles scored in the final seconds to steal this victory. Like the Cowboys, they were also outrushed significantly. Like the Cowboys, they drove the field through the air when the game was on the line. Good showing for young Foles. Can he pass for more than 300 yards again this week without throwing any interceptions?

 

BEST EXPECTATION

Games like this are always tough for sports bettors because mindset means so much. You can make a statistical case that the Bengals shouldn’t be favored by this much. But, if Philadelphia is just playing out the string…or if the Eagles try but make too many turnovers, then the line isn’t going to matter. Philly just lost on this field to Carolina by more than this spread…and Carolina had nothing to play for. Philly was routed by Washington, another team fighting for a Wildcard spot.

Mindset and mistakes. If Philadelphia plays clean on offense, and like they care on defense, they can certainly play spoiler here. Take either of those away, and it’s an Bengals cover. Take both away and it’s a Bengals blowout.

JIM HURLEY has been working closely with his on-site sources to get the right read on the Eagles. You can purchase his final decision (side, total, or parlay) right here at the website with your credit card. Don’t for get to check on our “end of season” online offer as well. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you Friday with our first BOWL PREVIEWS of the college postseason! We’ll run the numbers in Nevada-Arizona and Toledo-Utah State for the New Mexico Bowl and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in that report. Saturday will bring a special NFL look at SHOWDOWN SUNDAY for games like NY Giants/Atlanta, Green Bay/Chicago, Denver/Baltimore, and Indianapolis/Houston. On Sunday, we’ll provide an expanded preview for San Francisco/New England, which could turn out to be an early Super Bowl preview too.

Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK so you know what’s REALLY happening in the world of sports. And, link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for STOCKING STUFFERS from today all the way through the holiday season!

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