Ohioans given the chance to wager legally on a Cincinnati Bengals playoff game for the first time last weekend were happy if they bet the moneyline, but not so much if they used the point spread giving 9.5 points to the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s a different scenario this Sunday when Cincinnati visits the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. It is a rare contest in which this modern version of the Bengals is viewed as the underdog, with a consensus among online sportsbooks that they should be given 5.5 points.
It hardly needs to be mentioned — though we will — that this is a rematch of a Monday Night Football contest that was halted in the first quarter Jan. 2 after Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed with a life-threatening injury. The Bengals were leading 7-3 at the time, but the game and score were erased by the NFL. Hamlin has since been released from the hospital and has been visiting the Bills’ practice facility.
The Bengals went on to open their bid for a return trip to the Super Bowl as the AFC’s No. 3 seed by winning their wild card game over the Ravens 24-17. The second-seeded Bills squeaked by the Miami Dolphins, 34-31, winning the right to host the Bengals at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Neither team’s opening playoff win could be deemed impressive, in that both Baltimore and Miami were fielding unheralded backup quarterbacks. But there’s widespread agreement that the Bills and Bengals rank with the Kansas City Chiefs among the league’s elite.
Most betting sites list the Chiefs as the Super Bowl favorites, with odds most commonly at +300, while the Bills are priced just behind at +325 to +350. Cincinnati is the third pick in the AFC, with PointsBet customers able Friday morning to get a potential +900 return placing a futures bet on a Super Bowl victory.
Someone’s lengthy winning streak will end
Both teams were riding winning streaks into that Jan. 2 game in Cincinnati, and that’s still the case today. The Bengals have won nine straight games and the Bills eight straight.
Much of the focus is on two sterling young quarterbacks, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, and their superstar wideouts in Ja’Marr Chase and Stefon Diggs. There’s a key difference between the teams’ offenses right now, however, that helps explain the point spread: Cincinnati is expected to be without three of its starting offensive linemen due to injury, while going up against a Bills pass rush that applied heavy pressure against the Dolphins, including four sacks.
That’s a contributing factor to widening a point spread that was as close as 3.5 points at the start of the week. Those betting the moneyline instead of taking the points can use DraftKings or BetMGM to get a +200 return on a Bengals victory.
The @Bengals/@BuffaloBills #NFL #DivisionalRound matchup is seeing a lot of line movement ahead of the game. Where does the value lie? 🧐@TheTomCasale & @x_drumheller joined @GUnit_81 to break it down on #TheGregPetersonExperience🏈
— VSiN (@VSiNLive) January 19, 2023
DraftKings’ point total for the game is the lowest among major sportsbooks, at 48.5, while those looking to bet the “under” could go to FanDuel or Barstool Sportsbook to use 49.5. The forecast calls for temperatures in the low 30s during the game, with a chance of snow but no heavy accumulation.
These are two teams that have been extremely high-scoring during their winning streaks, with the Bengals averaging more than 28 points per game since they last lost in early November and the Bills scoring nearly 30 per game over almost the same span.
Burrow, Chase get bigger yardage props than peers
Cincinnati has not shown as much firepower in its last two wins — both against the Ravens — as in the previous seven. The Bengals only compiled 234 total yards in the wild card win, and just 51 on the ground.
Burrow completed 23 of 32 passes for 209 yards, including a touchdown pass to Chase, who caught nine balls for 84 yards.
Against Miami, Allen completed 23 of 39 passes for 352 yards and three TDs, but he was also intercepted twice — a hiccup that has plagued him along with fumbles this year. Diggs caught seven passes for 114 yards.
In addition to standard betting on the point spread, moneyline, and points total, all of the sportsbooks offer wide-ranging player prop bets. At Caesars Sportsbook, a wager can be placed on Burrow over or under 278.5 passing yards, while the number is 275.5 for Allen.
For the teams’ top wideouts, Caesars has set a line of Chase over/under 83.5 receiving yards and Diggs o/u 79.5.
It’s also likely that as game time approaches over the weekend, many of Ohio’s newly legal sportsbooks will offer special “odds boosts” or other bonuses and marketing incentives to attract customers and encourage betting action.
With such a marquee matchup of two teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, not every Bengals fan or other Ohioan will see the need to place a bet to have their interest piqued. But for those who have been looking forward for many months to their first chance to bet on an NFL postseason, there will be no shortage of options.
Photo: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer/USA TODAY