• Buy low on the Cincinnati Bengals against a depleted Baltimore Ravens team: The Bengals are in a great bounce-back spot, as they're set to take on a Ravens team with significant injuries at key positions
• George Pickens is worth an Anytime TD Bet: A combination of end-zone usage and increased opportunity makes Pickens worth a sprinkle to get in the end zone.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals (-3, 46.5)
Last Sunday, the Bengals got throttled by a Browns team that has had their number over the last couple of years. Quarterback Joe Burrow played one of the worst games of his career and earned a 45.2 PFF grade, his worst since Week 5 of his rookie season.
Importantly, Burrow missed all of training camp and the preseason as he nursed a calf injury. The star signal-caller was in a similar situation in Week 1 of last year after missing time in the lead-up to the season and put up another awful performance against the Steelers, throwing four interceptions.
There is no need to overreact to Burrow’s bad season opener. Which seems more likely: That the Bengals quarterback has genuinely regressed and should be downgraded, or that there was just a perfect storm of factors, such as playing an elite defense, a lack of preparation time and pouring rain that caused Burrow to underperform? I’m going with the latter and expect Burrow to replicate the elite play we’ve consistently seen from him.
The Bengals offense and Burrow are in a perfect spot to bounce back against a Ravens team that just cannot catch a break injury-wise. Baltimore will be without cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Marcus Williams, who graded top-20 at their respective positions last season.
Cincinnati poses a significant threat for a team lacking depth in the secondary because of how often they deploy 11 personnel (3 WRs). Last year, the Bengals ran 11 personnel on 94% of their dropbacks and generated the fourth-most expected points added (EPA) per dropback on those plays.
This banged-up Ravens secondary simply just doesn’t have the personnel to match up with Bengals pass-catchers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Burrow and his weapons are primed for huge performances on Sunday.
The injuries don’t stop on defense for Baltimore, who lost their two best offensive linemen in left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum last Sunday. Bengals DI DJ Reader (85.2 PFF grade in 2022) should be a true game-wrecker against backup center Sam Mustipher. EDGE Trey Hendrickson also has a great matchup with Stanley sidelined and will be able to constantly generate pressure, which he did at a top-20 rate last season.
Getting to QB Lamar Jackson should be a recipe for success for Cincinnati as Lamar was 2-of-9 with an interception under pressure in Week 1.
Best Bet: Bengals -3 (to -4)
This is my favorite spot of the week, with the market either overreacting to the Bengals’ Week 1 showing or underreacting to the severity of the Ravens’ injury problems, especially given this specific matchup. The Bengals are playable here even if we move back to -3.5, which has been the line for much of the week.
Las Vegas Raiders @ Buffalo Bills (-8, 47)
These early-season results are often noisy and don’t indicate the true level of play we should expect from teams down the road. While EPA per play numbers are a great indicator of team efficiency, they can be misleading in a small sample size when they are heavily influenced by big plays and late-down conversions, which are less sustainable than consistent positive plays.
That’s why I prefer to use success rate — which measures the percentage of a team's plays that result in a positive EPA — to analyze a team’s performance early in the season.
Looking at Week 1 net success rates, a metric that factors in offensive and defensive success rates, we see that the Bills actually won a majority of scrimmage plays while the Raiders lost a majority. In fact, the Raiders had the worst net success rate of all the teams that won in Week 1.
Buffalo underperformed their net success rate largely because of QB Josh Allen’s turnovers, which have been a reoccurring issue for him. Fortunately, Allen has a very QB-friendly matchup against a Raiders secondary that allowed the second-most EPA per dropback and generated pressure at the fourth-lowest rate last season. This is a perfect get-right spot for Allen and this Bills offense after last week's showing against a Jets defense that might be the best in the league.
On the field, the Raiders will be without WR Jakobi Meyers, who produced 81 yards and two scores in his Raiders debut. Losing weapons is especially important for QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who is capable of great production when he has receivers running open all over the field but struggles when tasked with creating big plays with his own arm talent.
Garoppolo loves to get the ball out quickly and had the eighth-quickest average time to throw among all qualified quarterbacks in 2022. He was able to throw that quickly because of how often his first read was open in Kyle Shanahan’s weapon-filled offense. With Meyers sidelined, Buffalo should be able to key in on WR Davante Adams and force Jimmy G to work to his second, third and fourth reads, which he hasn’t had to do much of in his NFL career.
Best Bet: Bills -8 (to -9.5)
This line opened as high as Bills -10, and the market seems to have reacted to Week 1 results and moved significantly. Have we really learned enough about these teams to warrant this line movement? I don’t think we have and love getting the Bills as less than 10-point favorites.
Anytime TD Bonus Bet: George Pickens +260 (For tracking purposes, this will be a 0.5-unit play)
One of the coolest metrics PFF has for fantasy and player props is expected touchdowns, which measures how many TDs a player is expected to score based on their usage. Although he didn’t score in Week 1, Pickens generated 0.6 Expected TDs, which would give him above a 50% chance to score in that game.
Additionally, Pickens should be looking at an increased workload in Week 2 with fellow WR Diontae Johnson sidelined with a hamstring injury. It’s not an ideal matchup for the Steelers offense against a great Browns defense, but getting Pickens to score at an implied probability of ~28% is worth a sprinkle as we look for the Steelers offense to bounce back after a poor Week 1 performance against the 49ers.
Record Tracker: This article went 1-2 last week, losing 1.2 units