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QB, defense give Bengals edge

Occasionally, a rookie quarterback proves he’s ready to start in the NFL. Blaine Gabbert might not be one, although the Jacksonville Jaguars are hoping he’s just getting warmed up.

The Jaguars cut veteran David Garrard before the season and benched Luke McCown after two weeks, forcing Gabbert into a role he does not appear fit for so soon.

The Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) are faring better behind rookie Andy Dalton, who has help from a solid running attack and the league’s No. 1-ranked defense. Cincinnati put it all together last week in a comeback victory over Buffalo.

Las Vegas handicapper Joe D’Amico (Aasiwins.com) is recommending the Bengals as 1-point underdogs today at Jacksonville, which opened as a 2½-point favorite. The line is Pick at several sports books.

The Jaguars have lost and failed to cover their past three games. Maurice Jones-Drew has rushed for 391 yards, including an average of 5.1 yards per carry, but Gabbert has a poor completion percentage (47.8), and Jacksonville has been limited to 9.8 points per game.

“Gabbert isn’t looking very good,” D’Amico said. “He just isn’t ready yet. He has one of the worst receiving corps in football, and it puts a lot more pressure on Jones-Drew to produce on the ground. But knowing this, defenses can key on the powerful runner.

“This may be the last time we see the Jaguars as a favorite, and I am taking advantage of it.”

Dalton has completed 58.1 percent of his passes for the Bengals, who have covered both road games this season.

D’Amico breaks down the rest of today’s Week 5 schedule:

■ Kansas City at Indianapolis (-2): The Chiefs improved the past two weeks, covering in games against San Diego and Minnesota. However, without running back Jamaal Charles, the Kansas City offense is averaging 12.2 points per game. The Chiefs finally broke through last week in their 22-17 win over Minnesota, but they needed five Ryan Succop field goals. The Colts also seemed to improve by switching to quarterback Curtis Painter, who hit Pierre Garcon for two long touchdown passes in Monday’s 24-17 loss at Tampa Bay. A field goal will settle this one, but in which direction I couldn’t tell you. Better games are on the board. I am staying away.

■ Arizona at Minnesota (-3): These teams are a combined 1-7, and the Vikings are 0-4 but have led in all four games, with double-digit leads in three of them. Minnesota quarterback Donovan McNabb is another loss or two from being yanked for rookie Christian Ponder. Adrian Peterson is averaging 94 yards per game on the ground, but Leslie Frazier’s coaching is in question with each passing week. I know the Cardinals are not much better, but they got Beanie Wells back last week, and he rushed for 138 yards and three touchdowns against a solid New York Giants defense. With Wells in the backfield, Kevin Kolb can open up the passing game. I’ll take the points with Arizona.

■ Philadelphia (-3) at Buffalo: Philadelphia has been outscored 36-0 in the final quarter of its past three games, all losses as a favorite. Michael Vick put up 491 total yards last week against San Francisco, which has a better defense than Buffalo. However, the Eagles’ offensive line has not come together, their linebackers are not penetrating, and their kicking game is weak. The Bills’ Ryan Fitzpatrick throws quick passes in a spread offense that matches up well against this Philadelphia defense. The Eagles are 1-6 against the spread in their past seven. I’m siding with a Buffalo team that rises in the second half instead of a Philly team that folds late.

■ Oakland at Houston (-5½): On the legs of Darren McFadden, the Raiders have the NFL’s best rushing offense. But a closer look shows their flaws. They still lead the league in penalties, and their defense has allowed a league-high 109 first downs. The Texans are off a big win over Pittsburgh and have Baltimore on deck, so some naysayers might side with the Raiders in a “tweener” game. But not this bettor. Houston lost wide receiver Andre Johnson, but running back Arian Foster has returned. The Raiders’ defense ranks 30th in points allowed (28.2 per game) and 29th in yards allowed (409.8). Oakland is 1-5 ATS in its past six meetings with Houston. I’ll lay the points.

■ New Orleans (-6½) at Carolina: The Saints have the No. 2-ranked offense, while the Panthers’ offense ranks third. I didn’t think Carolina quarterback Cam Newton would make such a smooth transition as a rookie. The Panthers are averaging 334.8 passing yards per game, and Newton has resurrected wideout Steve Smith. But New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has blitzing schemes that bewilder quarterbacks. The Saints have won and covered three straight, and Drew Brees and his high-flying offense average 31.8 points. I don’t see Carolina’s defensive line getting enough pressure on Brees. If they go shot for shot, Brees has more of an arsenal and a lot more experience. Lay the points, and I also lean over the total (51).

■ Tennessee at Pittsburgh (-3): The Steelers have problems on both sides of the ball. Ben Roethlisberger has thrown five interceptions, lost four fumbles and been sacked 14 times. Pittsburgh’s defense has been giving up a lot of yards on the ground (119.5 per game). But against the league’s worst rushing team, that’s not a big concern. The Titans’ Chris Johnson has not crossed the goal line yet. I don’t anticipate a lot of scoring and will bet this under (39½).

■ Seattle at New York Giants (-9½): The Giants have won and covered three straight, and they are getting healthier. Eli Manning is heating up with eight touchdown passes in the past three games. Ahmad Bradshaw will pound the ball up the middle and open up Manning’s favorite targets, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. The Giants’ multiple pass rushers will get to quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and force mistakes, and the Seahawks have no running game. Seattle is 0-2 straight up and ATS on the road and takes the long trip to the East Coast to play early. Lay the points with New York.

■ Tampa Bay at San Francisco (-3): The Buccaneers, who slammed the 49ers 21-0 last year, are 13-3 ATS in their past 16 on the road. San Francisco has been outplayed despite its 3-1 straight up and 3-0-1 ATS marks. The 49ers are coming off back-to-back road victories for the first time in five seasons. But their offense is overrated, and coach Jim Harbaugh has the team overachieving. The balloon pops this week. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has won five of his past six starts. Take the points with Tampa Bay.

■ New York Jets at New England (-7½): Can you say revenge? The Patriots were ousted from the playoffs as 9-point home favorites by the Jets in January. Tom Brady wants payback, and the New York defense is giving up 23.8 points per game. Brady’s offense is lighting up scoreboards for 33.8 points per game. The Jets are playing their third straight road game, after they got torn up the past two weeks and allowed a total of 68 points to the Raiders and Ravens. Remember that New England beat Oakland by 12, a week after the Raiders took down the Jets by 10. Go with the Patriots.

■ San Diego (-3½) at Denver: Philip Rivers has piled up 1,286 yards passing, but the Chargers are not as explosive as they once were. The talent level here is a mismatch in San Diego’s favor, even without tight end Antonio Gates. I must side with the hotter hand and more talented team. Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton is 6-20 in his past 26 starts. Rivers can’t wait to attack a Denver defense that allowed 408 yards through the air last week at Green Bay. The Chargers are 7-1-2 ATS in their past 10 against the Broncos.

■ Green Bay (-6) at Atlanta: When these teams met in January, the Packers annihilated Atlanta, 48-21. Aaron Rodgers hit 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers and the offense are even better now, ranking No. 1 in the NFL in scoring with 37 points per game. The Falcons seem to have regressed, and their defense is 27th in the league by allowing 26.2 points. Atlanta’s lack of a pass rush makes this game stand out to me. I’ll side with Rodgers and the Packers.


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