Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 12:00 PM EST. Odds subject to change.
Baltimore -3½ over Cincinnati
Streaming on Amazon Prime
8:20 PM EST. The battle for the AFC North is going to be a story that is followed closely, as each of the four teams in that division has a winning record through 10 weeks of the season. That is the exception and not the norm, as there are at least one or two garbage teams in every other division. The Ravens lead the division at 7-3, as they are coming off a heartbreaking last-minute loss to the Browns in a game last Sunday that Baltimore led 31-17 with less than nine minutes to play before Cleveland rallied with 16 unanswered points and a 40-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal to win the game as the clock hit 0:00.
As one might conclude at this point in the season, a Thursday night game on three days' rest will take a toll on both sides, and the injury report is lengthy. We’ll stick with the Ravens, who will be missing Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey (calf), starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), and linebacker Trenton Simpson (concussion). All were hurt in Baltimore’s loss on Sunday to Cleveland, and none have practiced here in Week 11. Furthermore, Linebacker Kyle Van Noy (groin) and guard John Simpson (illness, shoulder) also missed practice this week. If there is a light within that darkness, it’s that right tackle Morgan Moses, who had missed two games with a shoulder injury, did return to practice on Tuesday.
As for the Bengals, it might be worse, as they are going to be without their best edge rusher, Trey Hendrickson, who hyperextended his knee in Cincinnati’s loss to the Texans on Sunday. To add insult to that injury, it came on Houston’s game-winning field goal. Hendrickson was limited in practice, and there is a chance he could play, but even if he does, he’s not going to be at 100%. If that weren’t troublesome enough for the Bengals’ pass rush, Hendrickson's partner on the other side, Sam Hubbard, is nursing a right ankle injury, and he has already missed action. Finally, Bengals star wideout Tee Higgins also sat out practice this week and is not expected to play on Thursday Night Football.
Without going on too much of a rant, we all know these TNF games are nothing more than a cash grab to the detriment of the players involved. Cincy coach Zac Taylor discussed the struggles pretty succinctly, "You've got to cram a whole game plan into really about two and a half days. And so the team's got to understand that. We walked off the field Sunday; it was a Wednesday afternoon, post-practice is really the point of the week you're at. And so, you've got to get your bodies right after a physical long game like we had…And our guys have to get themselves ready, and our coaches have to do a good job preparing them in a short span this week."
A breakdown of X’s and O’s is not our forte, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t hammer home just how hard it is to compete at the highest level without your best going against the other team’s best. Sure, the Ravens are banged up, but their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, is as healthy as one can be after 10 games, and his full complement of weapons is as well, and that unit is facing a Bengals defense that is not going to have one or most likely both of their edge rushers. That’s a big problem. If you give even the most pedestrian pivot time to work in this league, it’s going to be a long night at the office. If this game were being played on Sunday, the story would be a different one, but it’s not. It’s on Thursday night, and with that comes all of the outside variables they have to deal with on a traditional week of rest and preparation. The road team is often at a disadvantage for many of those variables, including travel.
Finally, a quick look at the power rankings shows the Ravens have been up for the challenge when it comes to playing top-16 and top-10 competition, of which the Bengals qualify as the #7 team on that list, as Baltimore (ranked #4) is 4-2 versus the top-16 and 3-1 against the top-10. The Bengals are 3-2 and 2-2, respectively, in those areas. Moreover, we have a game that opened with what we call a “favorite” friendly number of -3½. That “hook” on a key number is often seen by an unsuspecting market as an “edge,” but it is not. The books are not in the business of handing out “edges” to the market, at least not on purpose.
Baltimore -3½ -108 (Risking 2.16 units - To Win: 2.00)