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Week 15 Bengals vs 49ers: Odds, expert picks, analysis, predictions

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The backup QB bowl features AJ McCarron making his first NFL start, while Blaine Gabbert looks to further his case to remain a starting QB in the NFL.

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David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals will be on the west coast this weekend as they face the San Francisco 49ers.

This game was originally set for a NBC Sunday Night Football affair, but the NFL flexed this game to an earlier time slot in favor of the Arizona Cardinals vs Philadelphia Eagles matchup. While the 10-3 Bengals have been a strong draw this season, the same cannot be said of the 4-9 49ers.

It's been quite a fall for San Francisco after making it to the Super Bowl just two years ago, but have quickly regressed to the point they're enduring one of their worst seasons of the past decade. They've lost double-digit games in a single season just once since the 2008 season, and had gone to three straight postseasons from 2011-13 while winning 41 games (including playoffs) over those three seasons.

As for the Bengals, they're on the verge of clinching a fifth straight playoff trip, a streak never previously accomplished in franchise history. However, this may end up being the first postseason Cincinnati is without quarterback Andy Dalton in that span. The fifth-year signal caller is out indefinitely with a broken thumb, and his return this season is questionable.

That's why former Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth and the Pro Football Focus crew aren't certain the Bengals will even hold on to win the AFC North:

McCarron’s NFL career is precisely 61 snaps old, with 49 of them coming against the Steelers yesterday after Dalton went down. This is the first game in which he has seen more than seven snaps of action, and the first in which he attempted more than three passes. Even if we count preseason, we have seen just 177 snaps from McCarron and 96 pass attempts, so we are working with extremely limited data.

PFF also has this data on how McCarron struggled in his first significant action against a Steelers defense that blitzed him early and often:

The 49ers know that feeling. Colin Kaepernick is now on Injured Reserve after entering the year as San Francisco's starting quarterback for the third straight season after taking over the role in 2012. However, inconsistent play led to him being benched in favor of journeyman Blaine Gabbert, and Kaepernick has since been placed on I.R. due to shoulder surgery. Kaepernick opened the year with a 2-6 record as the 49ers starter, whereas Gabbert has played significantly better en route to a 2-3 mark.

While the 49ers have shown improvement under Gabbert, this is still a game the Bengals need to win if they are to accomplish their biggest goals this season. That's because a win here will keep Cincinnati firmly in the mix for a first-round bye in the playoffs and possibly even the AFC's top overall seed.

Sitting at 10-3 and tied with the Denver Broncos for the No. 2 seed in the AFC, the Bengals are just one game behind the New England Patriots for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. That's part of the reason why the guys at Odds Shark have the Bengals pegged as a 5.5-point favorite after the line opened at Cincinnati -4.

Here are some of the recent betting trends for the Bengals and 49ers:

  • Cincinnati is 10-2-1 ATS in its last 13 games
  • Cincinnati is 10-3 SU in its last 13 games
  • The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Cincinnati's last 7 games
  • Cincinnati is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games on the road
  • Cincinnati is 5-1 SU in its last 6 games on the road
  • The total has gone OVER in 4 of Cincinnati's last 6 games on the road
  • The total has gone UNDER in 9 of Cincinnati's last 13 games on the road
  • San Francisco is 6-13 ATS in its last 19 games
  • San Francisco is 3-9 SU in its last 12 games
  • The total has gone UNDER in 5 of San Francisco's last 7 games
  • San Francisco is 4-2 ATS in its last 6 games at home
  • San Francisco is 5-11 ATS in its last 16 games at home
  • The total has gone UNDER in 6 of San Francisco's last 7 games at home

ESPN's FPI rankings like the Bengals to win at least two of their remaining three games, even with McCarron:

As for who's picking who, not many see the 49ers being able to pull off the upset this week, despite the fact they have not lost to the Bengals since 2003 and only have two losses to Cincinnati since 1978.

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated has the Bengals pulling of fa hard-fought 23-19 win:

Okay, AJ McCarron, let's see what've you got. The Bengals get to take a test run on the field they hope to play on again in early February, but if their backup-turned-starting-quarterback can't keep the chains moving this week against the 49ers, any shot of returning to Santa Clara is going to dwindle dramatically.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has an even smaller margin with the Bengals coming out with a 17-16 win.

This will be AJ McCarron's first start at quarterback for the injured Andy Dalton. The Bengals will likely try to shorten the game. That means a lot of Jeremy Hill. That is good enough to win here.

But Joe Manniello of Newsday makes a good point of how good the 49ers defense is at home, and that's why he has them winning by a 13-10 margin.

Week 14 wasn't kind to No. 14. Andy Dalton broke his thumb, and all of a sudden, the Bengals went from the top seed in the AFC to the possibility of being a wild-card team. This is one of the toughest games to pick, and here's why: Even without Dalton, the Bengals are the better all-around team. But the 49ers, or as I like to call them this week, the 4-9ers, have held offenses led by Aaron Rodgers (17), Matt Ryan (17) and Carson Palmer (19) to under 20 points in San Francisco.

Here's a look at how all of the national experts are picking this game:

  • Seven of eight experts at SB Nation are going with the Bengals.
  • Three of four NFL.com pickers are siding with Cincinnati.
  • The Bengals received all but three picks at ESPN.
  • Seven of eight Fox Sports pickers went with Cincinnati.
  • Six of eight CBS Sports pickers are siding with the Bengals.
  • NFL Pick Watch, which keeps track of every expert pick, has the Bengals getting 87 percent of the picks this week.
  • Needless to say, the Bengals are a clear favorite here, but not enough so that a loss would be real shocking.