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NFL Handicapping Tips: Are The Bengals For Real?

Bengals starting to make believers

Among the surprise teams in the NFL this season so far, the biggest among them for me has been the Cincinnati Bengals, no more victims of some of the less than flattering nicknames they have been tagged with in the recent past.

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Coach Marv Lewis has overseen a complete change in attitude from the former AFC North strugglers and they go into the final six weeks of the season holding a one-game lead in a division that includes powerhouses in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Although the biggest surprise on the team has probably been a resurgent Cedric Benson, the key to the Bengals for me has been their defense, currently bettered in terms of points by only New England and Indianapolis in the AFC.

So far they have only conceded more than 20 points twice in 11 games, a fine record, and it seems unlikely, according to NFL Predictions , that they will be able to avoid making the playoffs despite last week’s stunning reverse against Oakland, a defeat which came only thanks to some sloppy special teams work.

A 7-3 record should be no worse than 10-6 by the end of the season given their remaining fixtures, since all three of their home games are basically gimmes as far as NFL betting is concerned – Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City have totalled five wins in their 33 games so far.

But it is their road and divisional records that give the biggest cause of believing that they can last the pace. The defeat in Oakland was their first on the road this season and they stand 5-0 with just a home game against the Browns to go against their North foes – all the tiebreakers are certain to be in their favour.

So what of the play-offs? Well if the last weeks are anything to go by their depth looks fine since Bernard Scott has performed excellently while Benson has been sidelined and they have three decent receiving threats, albeit a little on the mouthy side when it comes to Chad Johnson 85 Ochocinco.

The defense is solid if unspectacular, but this season it has been all about getting the job done, something they had done superbly in close games until last Sunday, and I think all teams are allowed one blip. The strength is in the secondary, the linebackers are decent and they have been excellent against the run all season.

That they have given up more passing yards than average mainly comes down to late game strategy changes towards the deep ball in games which the opposition were still in to the final minutes.

And that could just be their problem – the spark of genius in a playoff game to build a big lead. Staying close in games is all well and good when there is a tomorrow but it could come back to haunt them should they come up against a team like the Colts or the Patriots.

Progress, sure, but a contender…not quite yet.

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