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Bengals still looking for first TD, fall to Watson's Texans

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

September 15, 2017 12:09 AM

Deshaun Watson had an electrifying 49-yard TD run. It was the only exciting play of the night! Houston beats Cincinnati in Thursday night NFL, plus college football notes and a Dodgers/Nats preview to close out the week in VSiN City.

NFL: Bengals still haven’t scored a 2017 touchdown, fall to Houston 13-9
Yes, another horrible Thursday night game. But these teams played late last season the day before Christmas, in a game that was important to Houston, and the final score was 12-10. Don't blame this one on Thursday! Cincinnati’s offense is still missing in in-action, with no touchdowns two weeks into the new season. Houston now has hope with rookie Deshaun Watson, who scored the only TD of the evening on a 49-yard scramble. 

Houston (plus 6) 13, Cincinnati 9

  • Yards-per-Play: Houston 4.3, Cincinnati 4.8
  • Total Yards: Houston 266, Cincinnati 295
  • Rushing Yards: Houston 168, Cincinnati 82 
  • Passing Stats: Houston 15-24-0-98, Cincinnati 20-35-0-213
  • Turnovers: Houston 0, Cincinnati 1
  • Touchdown Drive Lengths: Houston 94, Cincinnati no TDs (again)

So much ugly there. If you take away Houston’s 49-yard scramble, they averaged 3.6 yards-per-play…which is horrendous by NFL standards (though better than the 2.9 they managed last week vs. Jacksonville). They won anyway! Cincinnati did drive well enough to get some field goals on the board. The two offenses combined to go 8 of 30 on third down tries. Yes, stellar defense. But, football isn’t supposed to be this hard at this level.

As we discussed back on Monday, much of what we’re seeing in the NFL is just a continuation of last season. Houston couldn’t ever find an offense…and they still haven’t. Cincinnati fell apart, and there’s no evidence that anyone knows how to put the pieces back together. This is kind of mind blowing...over their last 16 games (a season’s worth of action), the Bengals are 5-11-1 straight up, with two of the five wins coming over the hapless Cleveland Browns. Cincinnati is 3-11-1 its last 14 when not playing Cleveland. 

The market’s having trouble adjusting to this version of the Bengals after all of those playoff appearances. Cincinnati was a home favorite in a 20-0 loss to Baltimore last week. They were bet hard up from -3 to -6 in this game because Watson was inexperienced and dealing with an ankle issue (which didn’t seem all that important once he was on the field). The halftime line offshore was Cincinnati -4, with a total of a total of 19.5 after they had fallen behind 10-6 at the break. The Bengals only managed a 3-3 tie in the final 30 minutes. 

Next up for both…oh my god!

Houston: a road rematch from last year’s playoffs against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots

Cincinnati: a trip to Green Bay, which sounds brutal…but at least they have extra preparation time, and catch the Packers off two big conference games against potential playoff foes (Seattle and Atlanta). 

Thus far NFL-wide…18 of 32 offensive performances have gained 4.9 yards-per-play or less.

College Football: Boise State and head coach Bryan Harsin now 1-11 ATS their last 12 on the once-fabled blue turf
For years the Boise State Broncos were MONEY when playing at home. Oddsmakers couldn’t make the lines high enough to dissuade the wagering public. Boise State would blow past those numbers anyway. But, ever since Chris Petersen left for Washington, Boise State has struggled to play to expectations at home.

In fact, Thursday night’s 28-14 non-cover win over New Mexico as 16-point favorites dropped the Broncos to 1-11 ATS their last 12 at home (all as favorites). And, the stats show that the final score overstates how well the hosts played.

Boise State (-16) 28, New Mexico 14

  • Total Yards: New Mexico 277, Boise State 264
  • Yards-per-Play: New Mexico 4.1, Boise State 5.2
  • TD Drive Lengths: New Mexico 42-75, Boise State 46-81-17-58

We’re not suggesting the wrong team won straight up. Boise State was a yard better per play, and was cleaner at the fundamentals. But they were a 16-point favorite…and THEN New Mexico lost its starting quarterback early in the game! Those were the stats accumulated against a shorthanded visitor. One touchdown was very cheap off a turnover.

Oh, Boise State’s one cover was by half-a-point in this year’s season opener vs. Troy. 

Up next: a home game against Virginia next week, followed after a bye week with road games at BYU (surely another defensive struggle) and San Diego State.  

College Football: Last week’s most misleading final score impacts Saturday’s betting market
Honestly, there’s not much to preview Saturday in terms of statistical angles for marquee matchups. There are barely any marquee matchups! Texas is getting a whopping 17 points at USC (and it might not be enough)…but that’s one of the “big games” of the day because of the names involved. Obviously, Clemson at Louisville is a big deal. Picking the pointspread winner there likely comes down to whether or not you think Lamar Jackson of Louisville can move the ball and make big plays against that great Clemson defense. Answer that question and you’ve made your pick. You might see and hear a dozen game previews between now and kickoff all boiling down to that issue. 

Let’s talk about something that’s barely been discussed. 

Last week, there was a misleading final score in a battle of major conference teams. To the degree there was a reaction to the result…it was praise for the winner, and condemnation of the loser. But, if you look at this week’s betting markets, it’s clear that the sharps read boxscores! Well, at least the quants put those stats into their models…and then the models kick out projections based on stats with the best predictive value rather than final scores. Casual market observers who only know the final scores are scratching their heads. 

We’ll give you the stats first just in case you want to see if you can figure out the game. 

  • Total Yards: Visitor 359, Host 423
  • Yards-per-Play: Visitor 5.3, Host 6.1

Clearly with those numbers, you’d expect the home team to win the game. They were 64 yards better, and almost one yard better per PLAY. The home team didn’t win. The home team lost by more than two touchdowns. Why?

  • Turnovers: Visitor 0, Host 3
  • Fourth Down Tries: Visitor 0/0, Host 1/2
  • Special Teams TD’s: Visitor 1, Host 0

Home field advantage correlates very well with turnover differential. In fact, you can make the case that the main reason teams enjoy a home field advantage is because of what it creates in the turnover category. You know home field is typically worth three points. Past studies have shown that each turnover has an average impact of about 4-points give-or-take…and that road teams will commit an average of about three-fourths of an extra turnover per game. There’s your three points!

But, here, the host was the team making mistakes. That’s not something that’s likely to hold true week-by-week because there are many random elements to the category. No team can play perfect football “on purpose” and completely avoid giveaways on command. No team is so bad that they always implode. These teams could play again next week on the same field, and see the ratio reverse. That’s the nature of football.

You’ll note that a failed fourth down try was also a virtual turnover because the ball changed hands. The visitor also returned a kickoff for a touchdown, which helped create the scoreboard illusion of point of attack domination. Let’s go to our new pet stat here in VSiN City, lengths of TD drives…

  • Visitor: kickoff return, 25, 80, 44
  • Host: 61

You can see the visitor picked up a special teams’ TD and two other relative cheapies. Both teams had one drive over 60 yards. 

At this point, you’ve probably only guessed the game if you watched it on TV…or if you’re an avid boxscore reader. The final score in this small SEC upset was South Carolina 31, Missouri 13

Both teams are playing again this week. Interestingly both teams are about TD favorites over their opponents.

  • South Carolina opened -7 vs. Kentucky. The game has been bet down to South Carolina -6.5 even though the Gamecocks won a road “blowout” last week…and even though Kentucky only scored 27 points as 33-point favorites in a 27-16 win over lowly Eastern Kentucky.
  • Missouri opened -7 vs. Purdue. The game has been bet up to Missouri -7.5 even though the Tigers lost big at home last week, while Purdue had an extra day to prepare after dominating Ohio 44-21.

In both cases, the games were bet opposite what last week’s final scores might have suggested. That would be a mystery to market observers who only handicap from final scores. If you read boxscores, it’s less of a mystery. South Carolina caught some breaks last week they probably won’t catch this week. Missouri has already been motivated to make some changes even with positive stats last week. They fired their defensive coordinator! 

This doesn’t mean Kentucky and Missouri are “locks” to offer value, certainly not at those new spreads where the key number of seven is no longer in their hip pocket. But, you can see why respected market influences bet the way they did off that misleading final score. Monitor the markets Saturday to see if the public buys back because they’re prioritizing the final score more heavily. 

MLB: Dodgers/Nationals begin series with #1 seed potentially in play…in a season where you might not want to be the #1 seed!
Nobody’s going to accuse the Los Angeles Dodgers of tanking for two weeks just so they could avoid the winner of the projected Colorado/Arizona Wildcard game in the first round. But that long slump has opened the door for the Washington Nationals to try and chase them down from behind in the last two weeks of the regular season to earn home field through the NL brackets. 

Would you rather be a #2 seed and face the inconsistent Cubs in the first round (or maybe even the Brewers or Cards)? Or be the #1 seed and possibly run into the dangerous Arizona Diamondbacks?

The Dodgers would have to continue slumping for several more days to complete a collapse. But a sweep for the Nats this weekend in the nation’s capital could push the door slightly more ajar. At the very least, we have a potential NLCS preview between the teams the market expects to survive the divisional round. 

Let’s see how both of these serious World Championship contenders have been performing in our key indicator stats. For offense, we look at league ranking in weighted-runs-created-plus, which is ideal because it’s park-adjusted. For bullpen, we use relievers xFIP, an analytic stat we also use individually for projected starting pitchers. That’s a “fielding-independent” measure that’s designed to run on the same scale as ERA. 

LA Dodgers (94-52) at Washington (89-57)

  • LA Dodgers (#1 NL offense, #1 NL bullpen)
  • Washington (#2 NL offense, #11 NL bullpen)
  • Friday: Wood (3.24 xFIP) vs. Jackson (5.14 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Hill (3.95 xFIP) vs. Strasburg (3.25 xFIP)
  • Sunday: Ryu (4.12 xFIP) vs. Gonzalez (4.21 xFIP)

The Dodgers were so fantastic during that long run of excellence that they still lead the National League in offense and bullpen performance. Washington’s bullpen is better than it was earlier this season…which means #11 probably underrates their pending performance in the postseason. They’re going to be better than full season measures if they don’t compare well to the Dodgers. Will Washington’s offense prove superior in October given the hints of recent form?

For this series, it’s a shame that Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer aren’t on the ledger. Hopefully they’ll both be feeling close to 100% in the playoffs. Down the road, you can see that Wood and Strasburg basically cancel out, as do Hill and Gonzalez. It could very well come down to the bullpens next month. This weekend? Clear edge for Wood…but it’s far from a sure thing that the Dodgers will right their ship against the fired-up Nats.

The early line for Friday’s game is Wood -140 over Jackson, with a total of 9.5 (Under -115). By now, you’ve likely heard that the Cleveland Indians rallied late for win #22 in a row Thursday night vs. Kansas City. A great story that’s helping remind the country about the joy of baseball. The early line for Friday’s attempt for #23 is Trevor Bauer -220 over Jason Vargas, with a total of 9. 

Have a great weekend! We’ll be back with you Monday to crunch all the key numbers from Sunday’s NFL action. Through next week, we’ll spend some time looking ahead to interesting College Week Four matchups like #20 TCU at #9 Oklahoma State, #25 UCLA at #19 Stanford, #5 Penn State at Iowa, #6 Washington at Colorado, and #7 Michigan at Purdue. The beginning of league play brings more collisions impacting the National Championship chase. 

Enjoy Clemson/Louisville Saturday night. If you haven’t subscribed to Point Spread Weekly (full season price just $99), you can take care of business after clicking here. It’s a lengthy football betting resource jam-packed with stats and analysis. Subscriptions to our weekday newsletter VSiN City are FREE, and also get you handy South Point betting sheets. Click here to subscribe for email delivery if you’re reading this off our website home page. 

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