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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, December 27, 2015 at 1:00 PM

There are many different storylines in play for Monday night’s ESPN matchup in the NFL featuring the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos. A new one was added over the weekend with a documentary claiming a link between Peyton Manning and HGH! For handicappers, that’s not a relevant issue at the moment.

*We’re trying to pick the pointspread winner in Monday’s game

*We’re trying to figure out if either of these teams is a real threat to New England in the AFC

The second question may be more important than the first because getting it right means you string together pointspread winners (riding, or fading) for two teams over the next few weeks. Can the Cincinnati Bengals beat good teams and win playoff games with A.J. McCarron at quarterback? Can the Denver Broncos play consistently with Brock Osweiler? Not a good half here (second half vs. New England, first half vs. Pittsburgh), but consecutive good games that matter?

Tough to pin down pinpoint assessments with the current sample sizes. Let’s look first at the “big picture” indicator stats that have served us so well here in the NOTEBOOK this season…


Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)

Cincinnati: 11-3 (#12 schedule according to Sagarin)

Denver: 10-4 (#13 schedule according to Sagarin)

Probably the most important thing to remember here is that we have quality TEAMS rather than quarterbacks carrying dreck on their backs. If anything, Denver’s great defense has been carrying the offense on its backs! We have teams who are 22-7 for the year against what are slightly better than league average schedules. Playoff caliber…even if it’s probably just “Wildcard” caliber with McCarron and Osweiler.



Cincinnati: 5.9 on offense, 5.3 on defense

Denver: 5.2 on offense, 4.4 on defense

See what we mean about the Denver defense. That’s a CHAMPIONSHIP caliber defense that will have to stay solid through January to make a Super Bowl run. Cincinnati’s defense is pretty good…but the loss of Dalton hurts them much more than the loss of Manning hurt Denver. And, if Peyton can return to the lineup in January, he’s still the same over-the-hill noodle arm who couldn’t throw consistently well before he got hurt. Of the two, Denver has the better chance to go deep because of its defense. Now, if McCarron comes in and lights up the scoreboard…THEN that’s a whole new pathway. For now, you assume he’s the standard “game manager” backup who’s trying “not to lose.”


Turnover Differential

Cincinnati: +9

Denver: even

Remember, Denver’s defense is FANTASTIC, while the offense just has to manage field position. A turnover differential of break-even is a disaster. There’s just no margin for error in Denver’s playoff challenge if they can’t win this category. Cincinnati probably loses TD potential and gains turnover likelihoods in the switch to McCarron. It will be very important to study how McCarron handles risk Monday night on the road at altitude against a great defense.


Market Performance

Cincinnati: 11-2-1 ATS  

Denver: 8-6 ATS (5-8-1 to the Under)

Cincinnati was one of the most underrated teams in the NFL before the injury to Dalton. Then, McCarron covered last week in San Francisco despite a lousy team offensive performance (242 total yards, 4.0 yards-per-play, 29% on third down conversions). You can see Denver’s been skewing to the Under because of a better-than-expected defense and worse-than-expected offense.


Current Line: Denver by 3.5, total of 41

That line basically gives the most respect to Denver’s defense. The line is more than a field goal in a big game…and there’s no way Osweiler is earning respect! Handicappers have to determine what McCarron can do in this very tough spot (possibly tougher for him than any playoff game would be unless he runs into Denver’s defense again). And, they have to determine of Osweiler can take advantage of what his defense may be setting up. (Long term…tonight is the night that provides evidence for the AFC championship discussion...for now, neither is likely to win on the road at New England in January. Maybe that will change with a breakout night for one QB.)

Oh, be sure to check on the weather! That season-long Under trend for Denver would only be magnified if game time conditions are helping defenses.

JIM HURLEY learned a lot about Osweiler last week in Pittsburgh. What he saw there will likely trigger a big play here (on either the side or total). You can purchase the final word for Monday football (NFL plus the Military Bowl and Quick Lane Bowl) right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours Monday. Be sure to ask about combination packages that include basketball when you call. Conference play in college hoops is about to begin!

More TV football previews coming soon in the NOTEBOOK…

Tuesday: Russell Athletic Bowl Preview...Baylor vs. North Carolina

Wednesday: Orange Bowl Preview…Oklahoma vs. Clemson

Thursday: Cotton Bowl Preview…Alabama vs. Michigan State

Weekend: NFL TV Preview…Sunday’s most important game

The focus will be on bowls as we work through the Final Four later this week. We hope you’ve been riding the college bowl hot streak in recent days. WINNER AFTER WINNER AFTER WINNER! We’ve been telling you this for years…you’re going to GET THE MONEY with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!


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