Believe in Andy Dalton or not, the Cincinnati Bengals appear to be for real again this season.
Dalton is not one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, but he looks much better when wide receiver A.J. Green is on the field. The good news for Dalton is that Green, who pulled himself out of last week’s game with a foot injury, is expected to play today when the Bengals host the Tennessee Titans.
And here’s more bad news for the Titans: Cincinnati has covered 10 consecutive regular-season home games, including a convincing victory over Atlanta last week in “The Jungle.”
Las Vegas handicapper Joe D’Amico (Aasiwins.com) is banking on the Bengals covering as 7-point favorites over the Titans. The line is 6½ at some sports books.
“Cincinnati has proven to be one of the most well-balanced teams in the league,” D’Amico said. “With an aggressive defense and flawless play on offense, the Bengals are a team to take seriously.”
Green is a serious playmaker. When the Bengals opened the season at Baltimore, Dalton hit Green for the go-ahead 77-yard touchdown pass late in the game.
Dalton has not been sacked in two games. Titans quarterback Jake Locker was intercepted twice and sacked twice last week in a loss to Dallas, which piled up 220 rushing yards against the Tennessee defense.
D’Amico (@Aasiwins on Twitter) breaks down the rest of today’s Week 3 schedule:
■ San Diego at Buffalo (-2½): The Chargers, off an upset of Seattle, lost Ryan Mathews for about a month but still have Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead to fill in at running back. The connection between Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates re-emerged last week. The Bills (2-0) still face some question marks on offense. The Buffalo defense will come after Rivers, but the savvy quarterback is capable of releasing the ball in a hurry with success. Look for the Chargers to establish their ground game, then follow Rivers to a win.
■ Dallas (-1) at St. Louis: With quarterback Tony Romo’s health short of 100 percent, the Cowboys have been riding the legs of DeMarco Murray, who leads the league with 285 yards rushing. Romo makes mistakes and has been sacked seven times, so St. Louis defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will have his unit prepared to throw a slew of schemes and a lot of pressure at Romo while trying to slow Murray. Zac Stacy’s running will open up the passing game for the Rams, who are my pick as home ’dogs.
■ Washington at Philadelphia (-6): Even without quarterback Robert Griffin III and big-play wideout DeSean Jackson, the Redskins rolled to a 41-10 victory over Jacksonville last week. Kirk Cousins got into a groove, completing 22 of 33 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns. In their first two games, the Eagles rallied for wins. Philadelphia’s defense seemed to get manhandled by the Jaguars in Week 1, but its offense is producing 32 points per game. Play this over the total of 50.
■ Houston at New York Giants (Pick): New York started 0-6 last season and is well on the way down the same road. The Texans, 2-14 last season, are turning things around. Eli Manning, who has tossed four interceptions, faces a much-improved Houston defense that has allowed just two late throwaway touchdowns in the past six quarters. Running back Arian Foster will move the chains. Until the mistake-prone Giants get it right, I’m going against them. Take the Texans, who are plus-1 at some books.
■ Minnesota at New Orleans (-10½): Without running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings can look lifeless on offense. The Saints will not start 0-3, and they come home for the first time this season. With coach Sean Payton on the sideline and Drew Brees at quarterback, New Orleans is 17-0 straight up (16-0-1 ATS) in its past 17 at the Superdome. I have no problem laying double digits here.
■ Baltimore (-1½) at Cleveland: This game will be settled by a field goal. The Ravens have won 11 of the past 12 meetings in the series. But the Browns have looked sharper in the first two games. Cleveland’s defense is yielding points, but it also has six sacks and two interceptions. Baltimore is allowing 14.5 points per game, and its defense will pressure quarterback Brian Hoyer. Six of the past seven meetings in this series went under the total, so look under 41½.
■ Green Bay at Detroit (-2½): The Packers have owned the Lions by winning 15 of the past 17 matchups. Detroit has not been able to run the ball, so its offense is living and dying with the success of the Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson connection. Green Bay is struggling to run, too, but Aaron Rodgers has completed 64 percent of his passes with four touchdowns. Rodgers and receiver Jordy Nelson will hook up often. The Packers are 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings, and getting points urges me to side with Green Bay.
■ Indianapolis (-7) at Jacksonville: The Jaguars are a mess, getting outscored by an average of 24 points in two losses. They have no running attack, and Chad Henne has been sacked 13 times. Andrew Luck has a superior receiving corps, and Colts running backs Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw will post big numbers on the ground. I’ll lay points with Indianapolis, a winless team that is close to being 2-0.
■ Oakland at New England (-14): The Patriots cruised to a 30-7 win at Minnesota last week, but laying two touchdowns in the NFL changes things. The Raiders’ pass defense is solid, and Tom Brady is not in a rhythm throwing the ball. This high line changes my perspective. There are better games on the board, but I must side with Oakland to stay competitive.
■ San Francisco (-3) at Arizona: After a mistake-riddled fourth quarter turned a 20-7 lead into a 28-20 loss to Chicago last week, I expect the 49ers to come back with a vengeance. Drew Stanton is expected to get his second straight start because of Carson Palmer’s shoulder issue, and the Cardinals are thin at running back. Colin Kaepernick is 3-0 with 838 yards passing and six touchdowns in two starts against Arizona. San Francisco is 7-1 ATS in the past eight games at Arizona. I’ll side with the 49ers.
■ Denver at Seattle (-5): After getting lit up by Rivers and the Chargers last week, the Seattle defense is looking to make a statement. The Seahawks are a much different team at home, where quarterback Russell Wilson is 18-1 straight up (14-4-1 ATS). Wilson, workhorse running back Marshawn Lynch, a fired-up defense and the loudest stadium in the league tell me Seattle is the play. This will be much closer than the 43-8 score in the Super Bowl, but I’ll go with the Seahawks to cover.
■ Kansas City at Miami (-4): The Dolphins have won and covered the past three in the series. The Chiefs are dealing with all kinds of injuries. But Miami running back Knowshon Moreno is out, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s numbers leave a lot to be desired. The Dolphins crashed back to reality with a 29-10 loss at Buffalo. There is talk that this is going to be an easy win for Miami, but the line troubles me, and I’m passing.
■ Pittsburgh at Carolina (-3): The Panthers are without defensive end Greg Hardy, but their No. 2-ranked defense should be just fine. Pittsburgh is off a 26-6 loss at Baltimore, and its defense is not what it was a couple of years ago. Carolina has a poor running attack, which puts a lot of responsibility on quarterback Cam Newton. Le’Veon Bell, fifth in the league with 168 yards rushing, could control the game for Pittsburgh. I lean under the total of 42.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS/ LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL