Thursday Night Football Best Bets Strategies - Week 15

If you think the Bengals are going to win, they there's a good chance that they'll do it in grand style.

If you said before the season that this Bengals/Eagles matchup would be for a potential playoff birth, I would have answered, "Oh, the NFC North's really that close?" And I would have been right, because really, how often am I wrong? (Please don't answer that.)

But instead, it's the Bengals that are in prime playoff position, and the Eagles' season has gone the way of Andy Reid's facial hair: out of control. Entering Week 15, the Bengals are the No. 13 team on our overall power rankings with a 38.6% chance on making the playoffs. The Eagles, meanwhile, are having fun hanging with the Browns and Titans of the world at our No. 26 spot with a big old 0.0% chance of stealing a playoff bid.

So what does this mean for you, the gambling expert looking to get ahead? That's what I mean to explain. For our official predictions, you'll need to check out our numberFire premium selections. But for a sneak peek into our thought process and some key stats we're looking at for this game, read on.

If You're Gonna Win, Don't Make It Interesting

The Bengals enter this game as only a four point favorite against the Eagles, so Vegas is expecting a close game. That's what happens when you let the allergic-to-clutch-situations Cowboys come back on you, Cincy. But something about that seemed off to me, so I decided to consult the games that numberFire considers the "strongest predictors" for this game.

Whether it's the similarities between the teams, the differences between them, or the strength of their respective offensive and defensive units as compared to their competitors, some games more accurately mirror this Bengals/Eagles matchup than others. These are the five most similar games since the start of the 2000 season, all of which are above an 88.9 percent match. And they reveal a clear trend that might not favor Eagles fans.

DateMatchupFinal ScorePred. WinnerPred. Cover

Not only did the team most comparable to the Bengals win the majority of the time, but they won badly. In fact, the closest "Bengals" win of the top five came just last year, when the Steelers beat the Cardinals by only 12. In fact, this trend continues a while down our most comparable games list: only once in the top 20 most comparable games did the Bengals win but the Eagles cover. That game would be our No. 8 most comparable game, a Bills/Patriots battle from 2001 that New England only won by three.

The take away is this: if you think the Bengals are going to win outright, then historical data shows that they are also a good bet for the cover. Close games need not apply.

Dick Jauron Would Be Proud

numberFire not only analyzes which games are most similar to current matchups, but which historical teams since the 2000 season most closely resemble these current teams as well. And for the Eagles, they most closely resemble the 2002 Chicago Bears.

Don't remember that Bears squad? Well join the Chicago fans that have tried so hard to forget. The Dick Jauron-coached, Jim Miller-quarterbacked squad finished 4-12 that year, second-to-last in the entire NFC. That's the bad news. The good news is that it allowed the Bears to take in the first round of the following NFL Draft... well, Michael Haynes and Rex Grossman. So maybe it's all bad news.

And the news doesn't get any prettier when you examine that Bears squad's record against opponents similar to the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals. The current Bengals squad ranks 16th in our offensive power rankings and 15th in our defensive power rankings, so I decided to isolate the squads that were in the middle third of the NFL in both offense and defense in 2002.

Against the middle third of the offensive rankings, the Bears performed understandably poorly. Against the Rams, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Jets, the Bears went 1-3. All three of their losses came by at least five points, with one of the losses (against Miami) finishing as a 27-9 beatdown. The lone victory was a 20-13 win vs. Jets, a game in which the Bears scored their most points over expectation (6.95) of any game the entire season.

Strangely enough, games against the middle third of the defensive rankings were almost non-existent. The Bears faced only two of these games, losing to the Packers by at least ten points each time. Two of Chicago's four wins that season came against teams in the bottom three for offensive efficiency; the other two surprisingly came against two teams (the Jets and Falcons) ranked in the top 11.

While an Eagles win is possible based on the Bears' historical data, I wouldn't count on it. The Jets and Falcons victories seem to be outliers against good teams, while the Vikings and Lions victories came against truly horrific offenses that don't resemble the Bengals in any fashion.

The New Buddy Cops: Foles and Brown

Once again (and possibly for the rest of the season), the Vick and McCoy duo are yucking it up on the sidelines. Instead, we get the replacement duo, Nick Foles and Bryce Brown, to try and lead the Eagles to victory.

But are the backups actually better than their starting counterparts, and could they actually mean that the Eagles should be favored in this game?

Foles has gained the Eagles 5.11 Net Expected Points (NEP) of value this season, meaning that when he makes a pass or rushes the ball, all of his plays combined have netted the Eagles 5.11 more expected points than what the league-average play would have netted them. But this number is somewhat misleading for one main reason: through his first four games, he sat with -10.70 NEP, one of the worst QB totals in the NFL. That's both good and bad for Foles, as his last game gained him an incredible 15.81 points over expectation for Philadelphia, one of the highest totals in Week 14. But it also means that last week might be an aberration, and the real Foles is the one that had negative points for four weeks.

Bryce Brown, however, has been going the opposite direction. After putting up a respectable -0.07 NEP per rush and -6.26 NEP total through his first two starts, Brown absolutely collapsed in Week 14. -8.28 NEP on the game later, and it took an extraordinary Foles game for the Eagles to pull it out on a game-winning touchdown. But which Brown is the real Brown? Unfortunately, we do not have as large of a sample size for the alliterative back, but our analytics aren't sold. We project 65.66 rushing yards and 0.23 total TDs for Brown in this game.