NFL Week 16 Monday Night Football: The Battle of the Replacement QBs?
Cincinnati Bengals +4.0 (-105) @ Denver Broncos
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
December 28, 2015, 6:30PM MST
Our roster of simulation and power rankings factors strongly endorse a Bengals cover. In aggregate, our work expects a Broncos win by one or two. Accordingly, we are betting Cincy plus the points.
The Bengal's offense is vastly superior to Denver's.
OddsShark reports that 60% of spread wagers are backing the Broncos. We have to believe that much of the public support owes to Denver's advantage over [INSERT TEAM NAME HERE] on defense. Without question, the Broncos defense is the best in the NFL (Denver ranks 1st against the pass and 3rd defending the run by Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA)).
However, bettors may be underappreciating the Bengals' stopping power. Cincinnati likewise ranks in the top-ten guarding both the aerial attack and ground game, and boast a 7th overall defensive ranking by DVOA. We expect Cincy's defense will be adequately effective, applied to Denver's 25th ranked offense.
With the ball, Bengals' backup AJ McCarron is no Andy Dalton, but the replacement player was solid last week, collecting 192 yards on 15 of 21, and 1 TD (no INTs). Granted, these numbers came against the soft defense of the San Francisco 49ers, but a couple of indicators validate McCarron's work, despite the easy comp.
First, the Bengals covered versus the closing spread, with three points to spare. A wealth of empirical evidence suggests the closing line accounts for information such as Dalton's absence and the 49ers lax defense. Second, DVOA, which adjusts for situation and opponent, dubbed the Bengal's work last Sunday the best offensive performance of week 15. As such, we are reasonably confident in McCarron's competence.
Conversely, consistent with their #25 seeding for the season, the Broncos offensive performance at Pittsburgh last week earned Denver the 28th slot by DVOA. Bronco's QB, Brock Osweiler's performance included a less then 48% completion percentage, an interception and two fumbles. While the Steelers defense overall is formidable, their bread-and-butter is guarding the run -- Pittsburgh is just mediocre versus the pass. Tonight Denver will face elite opposition in both facets of the defensive game.
Bottom line: We regard both Osweiler (3-3 ATS) and McCarron (1-0) as better than average. In fact, by Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, the Broncos backup has the edge (which perhaps explains why the talk is that Osweiler has earned the Broncos starting QB spot). Further, Denver's defense is, bar none, the best in the business. However, Cincinnati also sports a top-ten defense, as well as significantly more fire power on offense. At the end of the day, by our reckoning, the Broncos' advantage on defense is fairly modest tonight. We do not think this small advantage + home field adequately offsets Denver's deficiencies on offense. As such,we are taking the points and siding with the road dog.