LAS VEGAS -- The race in the AFC North is looking to be the most entertaining of all the divisions in the NFL. Its current leader is the Bengals at 4-2-1, with every other team sitting above .500 with three losses. Sandwiched between two battles within the North for Cincinnati is a home affair with the Jaguars this Sunday (1 p.m., CBS).
Line: Bengals -11, Total: 43.5
Line movement: The Bengals opened as high as -13 at the Coasts and Westgate. All around Vegas, the dog got the early attention with the line falling to -11. At the Westgate, the number actually dipped to -10.5 before bouncing back up to -11. The total opened at 43 or 43.5, and at William Hill moved a full point, from 43 to 44.
Trends that matter: The Jaguars are 1-4 ATS in their last five road games but 4-1 ATS in their last five November games....The Bengals are 14-3 ATS in their last 17 games at home....The UNDER is 4-0 in the Jaguars' last four games overall....The OVER is 7-3 in the Bengals' last 10 home games.
Rookie mistakes: There is no question that Jacksonville has played like a better team with Blake Bortles under center. However, he has been hurting the team lately.
At one point late in the second quarter against the Dolphins, the Jaguars had outgained Miami 199-3 in yards and the score was 7-3, Miami. But Bortles later threw two pick-sixes against the Dolphins and has thrown four this year. The Jags had covered two straight games and likely would have cashed as a 7-point dog against Miami had their rookie QB not surrendered 14 easy points.
Most of J-Ville's poor stats, minus QB mistakes, have to be thrown out. This is a team that was giving up an average of exactly 38 points per game in the first four weeks of the season. Since the home game against Pittsburgh, the Jaguars have given up only 16.5 points per game. Take out Bortles' INT returns (one against Pittsburgh and two against Miami), and the defensive unit alone is giving up just 11.5 points each outing.
The dramatic change shows in their totals as the Jags began the year 4-0 to the OVER and have now cashed four straight to the UNDER.
Who dey? Who are the Cincinnati Bengals? They were anointed this year's Super Bowl champion after three weeks and apparently experienced the worst bye week ever. After taking some time off, the Bengals lost by 26 to New England, tied Carolina, and were blanked 27-0 by the Colts.
After failing to win or cover for those three Sundays in a row, Cincy finally got back on track last week in an exciting battle with Baltimore. The Bengals won straight up and ATS, 27-24, as the total went OVER 44.5.
This portion of the schedule looked to be where Cincinnati would right the ship, as Sunday will be the second of a three-game home stand. Paul Brown Stadium is simply where teams go to die. The last time the Bengals lost at home in the regular season was October 7, 2012, and as stated in the trends section, they are 14-3 ATS in their last 17 in Cincy.
Four days after Sunday, Cleveland comes to town. Certainly, the Bengals feel the importance of every game being in a tight division race. However, facing a 1-7 team in between AFC North opponents may be difficult to have the right mindset and intensity needed in the NFL. Adding to that, a once proud defense has given up an average of 32.8 points per game since that dreaded bye week.
The defensive unit does have one stat on its side, and that is interceptions. Cincinnati is near the top of the league with nine picks on the year, and on Sunday they face the QB that leads the NFL in INTs, Blake Bortles.
Injuries that matter: For the Jaguars, starting cornerback Alan Ball (biceps) has been put on IR and nickel corner Will Blackmon (finger) is out indefinitely. LT Luke Jockel (concussion) looks likely to play on Sunday.
One of the best receivers in the NFL, A.J. Green (toe), is questionable but seems like he will be back. RB Giovani Bernard (hip) is also questionable.
Check injury updates here.
Weather: It'll be chilly but sunny in Cincinnati on Sunday, with temperatures in the 40s and clear skies in the forecast. Check Weather Underground for updates.
The Linemakers' lean: Sure, this is Jacksonville, but the Bengals haven’t been this big a favorite since 2009, and this probably isn’t a great spot to be laying a lot of points. It’s the prototypical sandwich game for Cincy, which is coming of an emotional win against a division foe (Baltimore) and have a nationally-televised Thursday night date with another rival (Cleveland) ahead. Cincy has already been trending in the wrong direction from a betting standpoint, while the Jags’ D looks to be much improved, allowing less than 70 points combined over their last four games. Jags plus the points.