Thursday Night Football is here to stay and that makes the work week feel just a little bit shorter. The Cincinnati Bengals have won two straight games, but it might be too late for them to make a play for the top spot in the AFC North in 2006.
After struggling through parts of the season, and then watching the Baltimore Ravens pick up a win practically every week, the Bengals might have to settle for a Wild Card berth – if they make the playoffs at all.
But Cincinnati will at least get a chance to cut the gap in the AFC North division on Thursday night, when the play host to the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. Kickoff time for the game is set for 8:00pm ET on the NFL Network (and on designated local television stations in the two markets). And the Bengals are actually the faves right now.
Oddsmakers at VIP.com have listed the Bengals as 3-point home favorites on the early line for this contest, with a total of 43.5 points. However, betting on the Bengals hasn't been a great way to make money this year – and betting on them at home has been a disaster.
Cincinnati might be 6-5 straight-up on the season, but they're just 5-5-1 against-the-spread overall, and a terrible 1-3-1 ATS at Paul Brown Stadium. As the favored team the Bengals have compiled a 3-3-1 ATS mark in seven games this year.
The Ravens have been a bit more lucrative for bettors – they're 9-2 straight-up, and 7-4 against-the-spread through 11 games. Baltimore has compiled a 2-3 ATS mark in five road games, and they're 3-1 ATS as the underdog. Over/Under bettors have seen Baltimore go 4-6-1 to the Over this year, while the Bengals have provided six Overs.
And one of those Over results came back on November 5, when the Ravens got past the Bengals by a final score of 26-20 at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore had been favored by 3 points in that game, and they covered the spread, while the total had been set at 41.5 points. Steve McNair went 21-of-31 for 245 yards (with no touchdowns and no interceptions) for the Ravens, while Jamal Lewis ran for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Those weren't huge numbers for McNair, but it was much better than the stats line Carson Palmer produced in the matchup. Palmer completed just 12-of-26 pass attempts for 195 yards, with one touchdown strike and two interceptions. Rudi Johnson ran for 77 yards and a score in the loss, while T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught a touchdown pass.
The game stories were different last season, as the Bengals won both meetings between these teams. Cincinnati ran up the score in a 42-29 win over Baltimore on November 27 (covering the 9-point spread and sending the combined score Over the total of 38), and shut down the Ravens in a 21-9 win earlier that month on the road (covering the 3-point spread, and keeping the combined score Under the posted total of 36.5 points).
Back in 2004, the Ravens and Bengals split their two meetings, with Cincy winning and covering on the road in December, and the Ravens doing the same thing in September.
The Bengals' 30-0 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday ran their division record to 3-1, and it also provided some confidence for a defense that ranks in the bottom half of league (allowing 21.2 points-per-game, compared to an NFL average of 20.4 points-per-game).
Of course, the Ravens also blanked a division opponent on the weekend, beating the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers 27-0. The Ravens have allowed just 13.4 points-per-game so far, third-best in the league, and they're 3-0 in the division.
So a win by Baltimore on Thursday night improves their record to 10-2, and drops the Bengals' mark to 6-6. That four-game gap would practically clinch the AFC North title for the Ravens in 2006, and it would keep them in the thick of things for the top overall mark in the conference.
The Bengals are currently tied with both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets at 6-5, with the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs currently sitting in the AFC's Wild Cards spots with 7-4 marks through 11 games.
That means that Cincinnati certainly isn't out of the playoff race in the AFC – not with the inconsistent Chiefs and Broncos the two teams ahead of them in the standings, and even a Week 13 loss wouldn't destroy their postseason hopes. However, Carson Palmer and company would be a lot better off if they picked off their third straight win.Written by Alex Davis. For NFL Thursday night odds, visit VIP.com