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Thursday Night dud? Texans-Bengals matchup has snooze appeal

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

Both the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals are looking to bounce back from horrible offensive performances when they square off Thursday night. Plus…Westgate SuperContest lines and MLB Championship chances.

NFL: Could it get any uglier for Texans and Bengals? Let’s hope not!
It’s hard to pin down which offense performed worse last Sunday between the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals, the two teams in action Thursday night in the NFL.

  • Houston only gained 203 yards on 2.9 yards-per-play, while turning the ball over FOUR times as a home favorite in an important divisional game.
  • Cincinnati only gained 221 yards on 3.8 yards-per-play, while turning the ball over FIVE times as a home favorite in an important divisional game.

Houston drove the field for one touchdown, after they had already fallen way behind in what would ultimately be a 29-7 loss. Cincinnati was the only team shut out last week…unable to even get a field goal on the board in a 20-0 embarassment. 

There are seasons where most Thursday night games are yawners…and pundits blame the lack of preparation time for offenses. Both of these teams played last Sunday like it was Thursday night! Heaven forbid what we might see this evening. 

Are we in store for a snooze-fest where both teams struggle to reach 14 points. You know what? They played in Texas late last season the day before Christmas…and Houston only won 12-10!

Cincinnati is currently favored at -6 despite last week’s shutout loss. Houston starting quarterback Deshaun Watson is a rookie making his first road appearance. He’s also battling a bum ankle…which is particularly troubling behind this shaky offensive line. The market sees Cincinnati as the team more likely to bounce back…thanks to a combination of home-field advantage and a much more experienced quarterback in Andy Dalton.

This is a tough game in terms of a “stat preview” because last week was so ugly. Let’s use the final numbers from 2016 for guidance. Yes, Houston has a new quarterback. Last year’s quarterback play was so horrible that it won’t be hard to match those stats!

Houston (9-7 last season) at Cincinnati (6-9-1 last season)

  • Las Vegas Line: Cincinnati by 6, total of 37.5
  • Estimated Market Power Ratings: Cincinnati 78, Houston 75 (Watson bad ankle) 
  • 2017 Records: Houston 0-1, Cincinnati 0-1

Houston did reach the playoffs last year despite its poor offense. They probably weren’t a “playoff caliber team” in terms of what that historically means. They were in a weak division, sweeping four games from Indianapolis and Jacksonville (all wins by 5 points or less…actually, Houston was a fortunate 5-0 for the season in games that close counting the win over the Bengals). Cincinnati fell hard from past standards, and wasn’t a playoff caliber team either. 

Key 2016 Passing Stats 

  • Houston: 5.9 yards-per-pass attempt, 15 TD’s, 16 interceptions thrown
  • Cincinnati: 7.5 yards-per-pass attempt, 18 TD’s, 8 interceptions thrown

Important to remember that there are a lot more TD passes than interceptions in the modern NFL. So, a 15/16 ratio like Houston’s isn’t “break-even.” It’s one of the worst ratios in the league. The horrendous NY Jets were worst with 16 TDs and 25 picks. Remember how poorly Cleveland and Chicago played last season? Their ratios were 15/14 and 19/19. Houston’s 5.9 yards-per-pass-attempt, keyed by a seemingly endless dink-and-dunk barrage, was worst in the NFL. Cincinnati wasn’t great. But Kansas City showed you can win with stats like that (7.2/19/8 for the Chiefs). 

2016 Impact Defense 

  • Houston: 38% third down pct-allowed, 17 takeaways, 31 sacks
  • Cincinnati: 40% third down pct-allowed, 20 takeaways, 33 sacks

Houston’s defense was surprisingly passive when it came to forcing turnovers. That’s barely over one takeaway per game. Not much better for the Bengals. The Texans strength was at denying big plays, allowing just 5.1 YPP, tied for fourth best in the NFL with respected Minnesota and the NY Giants. Cincinnati was better than average at 5.4 YPP allowed.

The first lines up this week were closer to -3 or -4. That would make sense based on last year’s composite stats (Houston with the better defense, Cincinnati with the better offense). Watson’s ankle injury appears to be looming large in the minds of sharps. Mobility may be his greatest strength as he’s learning the ropes early in his NFL career. If that’s taken away…TROUBLE!

Has the line over-adjusted to Watson’s injury? Are both offenses in so much trouble that Under is the right call? Best of luck with your choices tonight.

Westgate SuperContest: Will Week 2 lines give contestants a chance at redemption?
Don’t forget that VSiN is the media home for the world-famous Westgate SuperContest and SuperContest “Gold.” Week 2's official contest lines were announced today right at the top of “My Guys in the Desert.” Let’s take a look. Games are presented in Nevada Rotation order…

  • Cincinnati -6.5 vs. Houston (Thursday)
  • Tennessee -2.5 at Jacksonville
  • Baltimore -8 vs. Cleveland
  • Carolina -7 vs. Buffalo
  • New England -6.5 at New Orleans
  • Arizona -7 at Indianapolis
  • Kansas City -5.5 vs. Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh -5.5 vs. Minnesota
  • Tampa Bay -7 vs. Chicago
  • LA Chargers -4 vs. Miami
  • Oakland -14 vs. the NY Jets
  • LA Rams -2.5 vs. Washington
  • Dallas -2.5 at Denver
  • Seattle -14 vs. San Francisco
  • Atlanta -3 vs. Green Bay
  • NY Giants -3.5 vs. Detroit (Monday Night)

Contestants must pick their best FIVE against those numbers. Any contestant who wants to include the Thursday nighter featuring Houston and Cincinnati must turn in ALL FIVE picks before that kickoff. 

Last week, there were some interesting decisions to be made because the Westgate purposely selected lines that were trying to anticipate sharp action near key numbers on a few games. This week’s numbers are much closer to the current odds. Perhaps late week steam will open some doors for value plays where “widely available” lines will differ from the contest just before picks must be posted. 

Good luck to everyone in the contest. Even 0-5 starters aren’t out of the race because only NINE contestants went 5-0. A long season provides everyone a chance to get hot in time for that grand prize greater than $1.3 million. 

MLB: Cleveland wins #21 in a row, but win streaks turn to trivia in October
The Cleveland Indians beat the Detroit Tigers 5-3 Wednesday afternoon, notching their twenty-first straight victory. It’s been quite a boon for bettors who like riding streaks…though the eventual buster is likely to cost anywhere from 2-3-4 bets given recent prices. (Cleveland is currently -220 for Thursday’s game vs. Kansas City with John Tomlin vs. Jake Junis). 

As fun as something like this is to follow, fans (and bettors) must remember that it turns to trivia once the playoffs arrive. If Cleveland doesn’t win the championship, it was all for naught. Remember those amazing months from the Los Angeles Dodgers? Same thing. The Houston Astros lighting up scoreboards in the first half of the season? A seeming afterthought now…basically irrelevant if Houston isn’t destined for an October parade (in a city that could use a celebration this Fall).

Gill Alexander has talked about it often during the regular season on “A Numbers Game.” And our oddsmaker experts Chris Andrews, Jimmy Vaccaro, and Vinny Magliulo have hammered home the same point. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THE PLAYOFFS! Baseball is such a random sport that a small sample can turn dreams into nightmares for any team. It’s just as true for Cleveland now as it was for the Dodgers last month. Nothing’s automatic.

A quick look at recent World Series Championship expectations from respected analytics sites Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus drive that point home. One doesn’t have ANY team at better than 20% to win. Both have the combination of Cleveland and the LA Dodgers at less than 50%. 

Fangraphs World Championship Percentages

  • Houston 19.5%
  • Cleveland 19.3%
  • LA Dodgers 16.4%
  • Boston 13.9%
  • Chicago Cubs 10.8%
  • Washington 8%
  • NY Yankees 4.8%
  • Arizona 2.9%

Wow…HOUSTON is still #1 with fangraphs? That’s going to raise some eyebrows. Different approaches yield different forecasts. You’re about to see clear disagreement from Baseball Prospectus.

Baseball Prospectus World Series Championship Percentages

  • Cleveland 23.4%
  • LA Dodgers 20%
  • Washington 13.2%
  • Houston 12.3%
  • NY Yankees 8%
  • Chicago Cubs 6%
  • Arizona 5.8%
  • Boston 5.1%

Here, Houston falls to fourth best. This will make more sense with “eye test” for many of you, at the top at least. Depends on how much you want to dock the Dodgers for their inexplicable (yet largely meaningless) slump of the past few weeks. They still have the skill sets of a championship contender, and are hoping to be at something closer to full health come October. Boston down at only 5%? Fangraphs has them near 14%.

(A quick note that analytics website 538 posted this interesting article Wednesday about how the red-hot Cleveland Indians are actually better than their great record this season.)

Well, if the most respected analytics sites in the sport don’t agree, how are YOU supposed to pick the winner?! We’ll talk about that once the playoffs arrive and more is known about the health of each contender. Just a few weeks away from some excellent teams colliding with everything on the line. October is going to be a special month!

Sports Handicapping: How important are trends?
Now that the football season has begun, you’re being BOMBARDED with trends. Baseball bettors got used to that quickly over the summer. If you skipped baseball to gear up for football, it’s important to keep the following in mind.

A lot of trends really don’t mean anything. As Jimmy Vaccaro says on those Sirius radio promos, “Trends don’t pay the bills.” It’s very easy to look backward from any point in time, and find trends that coincidentally happened in the past (a process called data-mining). Imagine that you live in a city where it rained the last five Fridays. Would you say there’s a 100% chance of rain tomorrow based on that recent 5-0 trend? Would you step back from that a bit to say that it’s at least more likely than not that it will rain Friday? Enough to make money if you were given 11/10 odds?

You wouldn’t think that way because you know that’s not how you forecast weather. Meteorologists could care less about what day things happen on. There’s no predictive value for something like that going forward, no matter how many Fridays it’s rained in a row. 

  • Some trends DID mean something, but don’t any more. The San Francisco 49ers had a lot of positive trends under Jim Harbaugh. Then he left and those disappeared. Some team trends will be meaningful when a star quarterback is healthy, but should get thrown out the window if he’s on the shelf with an injury. Some bad trends for Carson Wentz last year for the Eagles may disappear as he climbs the learning curve in his second season. Trends that worked great for early versions of “spread” offenses in college football back when Ralph Friedgen and Joe Tiller were “offensive gurus” disappeared once defenses made some adjustments. The LA Dodgers sure had a lot of positive trends in play a few weeks ago. What happened to those? 
  • It’s best to focus on trends that have a direct connection to on-field reality in a way that could stay meaningful. Certain head coaches perform poorly in big games. One dimensional offenses perform poorly against defenses who can stop that dimension. MLB offenses too reliant on home runs have trouble scoring in more spacious parks (though changes in baseball construction may have thrown a monkey wrench into that tendency). 

So, as you work your way through the piles of trends coming your way, weed out “old news” or “non-news” to find helpful keys that are going to matter on the football or baseball field. 

Back with you Friday to run the key stats from Texans/Bengals. Hopefully those offenses will compile some! Thanks to all of you who are already FREE subscribers to VSiN City. If you haven’t already signed up, you can do that by clicking here. You also get access to those very handy betting sheets from the South Point.

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