This weekend’s slate of NFL games is of special note for Ohioans, and not just because with victories the Bengals can solidify their grip on the AFC North and the Browns can keep their scant playoff hopes alive.
No, the games involving Ohio’s two teams — being played on Saturday due to Christmas Sunday — carry a special footnote as the last ones on which residents of the state will be unable to place legal wagers.
On Jan. 1, when the Browns visit the Washington Commanders, wide-ranging betting opportunities will exist both with online sportsbooks and in person, just as has become natural in many adjacent states. And on Monday Night Football on Jan. 2, the Bengals’ game against the Buffalo Bills is certain to draw even more wagering action in Ohio than the high volume that will accompany the marquee prime-time matchup across the rest of the U.S.
This week, for one last time, Ohioans have to cross state lines if they want to place a legal wager on Cincinnati or Cleveland, which are both favored by about a field goal in their 1 p.m. Saturday games against New England and New Orleans, respectively.
Bengals favored to get seventh straight win
The Bengals played in one of the many miraculous comeback games of Week 15, reeling off 34 straight points — after being down 17-0 — to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-23.
The Patriots, meanwhile, were on the opposite side of a wild and wacky finish. A slap-my-head, what-is-he-thinking botched lateral on the game’s final play resulted in the Pats losing 30-24 to the Las Vegas Raiders.
The results put Cincy in control of the AFC North at 10-4, one game ahead of a Baltimore Ravens squad stumbling without the injured Lamar Jackson. The Bengals have finally become the divisional favorite with oddsmakers, with BetMGM making them -190 compared to +160 for the Ravens. The two teams meet in Cincinnati to close the regular season on Jan. 8, and the Bengals will return to the postseason one way or another.
The Cincinnati Bengals have clinched a playoff berth. They are the first team since 2018 to start their season 0-2 and make the playoffs.
They did it with 3 games to spare.
— Blake Jewell (@BlakeJewellNFL) December 23, 2022
New England is now 7-7, with once-promising playoff aspirations increasingly in doubt.
For the game at Gillette Stadium, where it’s supposed to be in the low 20s and windy but not nearly as ridiculously blustery as Cleveland, the Bengals are favored by 3 points at every major sportsbook. Some were charging extra vig Friday morning to take Cincinnati, but DraftKings and Caesars Sportsbook were at the standard -110, and PointsBet offered its common discount of -107.
Caesars was offering the most favorable moneyline price to a Bengals backer at -160. The over/under was set at 41.5 across the board, with FanDuel offering a discounted -105 to take the over.
The word “surging” now precedes the Bengals’ name in many articles, after their having won six in a row and 10 of 12 games. While Joe Burrow threw four touchdown passes Sunday, the usually potent offense amassed only 237 total yards.
It was the defense that stepped up in the comeback, with four takeaways from Tom Brady. And that defense didn’t even have Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who says he is going to return from a broken wrist to play against New England. That’s especially important with fellow edge rusher Sam Hubbard being sidelined by an injury suffered Sunday.
The Patriots have lost three of their last four games, with quarterback Mac Jones unable to fire up the offense. Rhamondre Stevenson ran for 172 yards, including a 34-yard TD, against the Raiders, but Jones was just 13 of 31 passing for 112 yards. He has thrown for seven TDs all year, and the conditions in Foxboro Saturday wouldn’t seem to make things any more conducive for him.
Two teams clinging to playoff hopes
The Browns were able to take advantage of Ravens quarterback Jackson’s absence Sunday to win 13-3 and move to 6-8. While DraftKings lists odds of 14/1 for a slew of things to go their way and get the Browns into the playoffs, a believer in such miracles should go to FanDuel or BetMGM to get them at 25/1.
Despite being 5-9, the Saints have their own longshot chance of suiting up beyond Jan. 8 due to playing in the NFC South, which the Buccaneers lead at 6-8. If Andy Dalton somehow leads them to victory at FirstEnergy Stadium, anything is possible.
That stadium will be a bit, shall we say, nippy, for those in attendance, whether on the field or in the stands. It will be one of the coldest games ever in Cleveland, with temperatures barely in the double digits and winds of 25 mph or more sending the feels-like temperature below zero.
Given all that, and two offenses that have been less than spectacular in the scoring department, many sportsbooks list the points total at a historically low 32. That’s reportedly the lowest NFL point total in the past 14 years.
The books have the Browns as either a 3-point favorite with discounted vig (+100 at BetMGM) or a 2.5-point favorite with extra juice (-122 at FanDuel). DraftKings, BetMGM, and PointsBet all have a moneyline price of -150 on Cleveland.
Though the Browns are 2-1 since Deshaun Watson completed his suspension to take over as quarterback, it’s not like the offense is sizzling, as evidenced by Sunday’s 13 points. He was 18 of 28 for 161 yards in the passing department, while Nick Chubb ran for 99 yards on 21 carries. There were concerns about a foot injury he suffered, but Chubb is to play Saturday.
— Browns Fans (@BrownsChat) December 23, 2022
The Saints allowed 231 rushing yards to the Atlanta Falcons Sunday despite beating them 21-18. Dalton completed 11 of 17 passes for 151 yards, and Jawan Johnson had two TD catches. As with the Browns and Chubb, the Saints still lean heavily on Alvin Kamara, who ran for 91 yards on 21 carries.
Photo: Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY