The Cincinnati Bengals are on the hunt for their ninth win of the season and their next opportunity to snatch a win comes on Sunday when St. Louis Rams come to Paul Brown Stadium for a 1:00 p.m. EST game.
After looking like gangbusters during an 8-0 start, Cincinnati has struggled to put together a complete game over the past two games while losing by a combined seven points while having chances to win both games in the final minute. The first came in a 10-6 loss to the Houston Texans which saw an nonexistent offense.
Last week, it was a 34-31 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in which the defense collapsed in the second half after the Bengals held a 14-7 halftime lead. Despite two-straight losses, Cincinnati still leads the AFC North by two games and is tied with the Denver Broncos for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
As for the Rams, they've fallen on tough times after a promising 4-3 start that included wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. St. Louis has lost three-straight games with two coming by only a field goal. Last week saw the Rams blow a 13-3 fourth-quarter lead in Baltimore before the Ravens escaped with a 16-13 win.
Needless to say, this is a big game for both teams, though most see the Bengals being the clear-cut favorite. Not only does ESPN's Football Power Index like Cincinnati this week, but the advanced metric system projects the Bengals to finish 13-3 in the regular season and make it all the way to the AFC Championship:
According to the most up-to-date FPI projections, the Bengals are expected to finish the regular season with a 13-3 record. They also have a 95.1 percent chance to win the AFC North, even after seeing their division lead shrink to two games with Sunday night's loss at Arizona. The FPI gives the Bengals 99.8 percent odds to make the playoffs. Only the undefeated Patriots and Panthers have better odds of doing that.
The FPI is currently giving Cincinnati an 86.4 percent chance to reach the divisional round of the playoffs; something that hasn't happened for the organization since long before Marvin Lewis took over as head coach. The Bengals also hold a 51.4 percent projection to reach the conference championship game.
However, one key thing that can derail the Bengals in the short and long-term is the struggling offensive line. The Rams defense thrives off of rushing the passer, and as Coley Harvey writes, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is struggling against pressure.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Dalton's Total QBR when facing pressure is a mediocre 6.9, ranking him 24th among qualifying quarterbacks. That's right in line with the career 4.3 QBR he has when dealing with pressure, a figure that ranks him 26th among qualifying signal-callers since 2011, the year he began playing.
Alternatively, Dalton's 91.7 QBR this season when he isn't pressured is the best in the league. Without pressure, he also has thrown 19 of his 20 touchdown passes (he had 19 overall touchdown passes all last season), ranks fourth in passer rating (112.3) and eighth in completion percentage (70.9).
Most quarterbacks don't perform well with defensive players breathing down their necks, but it's a painfully clear weakness of Dalton's that can hinder this offense. Making matters worse is the Bengals offensive line has allowed Dalton to be sacked 17 times over the past six games after allowing just two over the first four games and 21 in all of 2014. The Rams have 30 sacks this season, the fifth most sacks of any team this season. If St. Louis is going to win this game, it will be because they got the better of the Bengals in the trenches.
As for what the oddsmakers are saying, they have Cincinnati as a 10.5-point favorite coming into this game with an over/under of just 42 points. Here are some of the recent betting trends for the Rams and Bengals, courtesy of OddsShark:
- St. Louis is 4-8-1 ATS in its last 13 games
- St. Louis is 4-9 SU in its last 13 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 5 of St. Louis's last 6 games
- St. Louis is 1-4-1 ATS in its last 6 games on the road
- St. Louis is 1-5 SU in its last 6 games on the road
- The total has gone UNDER in 6 of St. Louis's last 7 games on the road
- Cincinnati is 4-1 ATS in its last 5 games
- Cincinnati is 8-2 SU in its last 10 games
- Cincinnati is 16-5-2 ATS in its last 23 games at home
- Cincinnati is 5-1 SU in its last 6 games at home
As for who's picking who, it's been an interesting three-week stretch for the Bengals. They were unanimous favorites in Week 10 vs the Texans, near-unanimous underdogs against the Cardinals last week and are now favored by just about everyone to beat the Rams.
- All eight experts at SB Nation are going with the Bengals.
- Two of NFL.com's four pickers are siding with Cincinnati (two have yet to pick).
- The Bengals received all but one pick at ESPN.
- All eight of Fox Sports' pickers went with Cincinnati.
- All eight CBS Sports pickers are siding with the Bengals.
- NFL Pick Watch, which keeps track of every expert pick, has the Bengals getting 99-percent of the picks this week.