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Thursday's Best Bet
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Thursday NFL Best Bet

Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals Odds: Houston (+6.5) vs. Cincinnati (-6.5); Total set at 38

The first “official” TNF game of the year pits two teams that looked absolutely awful in Week 1 against one another with the Houston Texans in Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. It's definitely not how the league wanted to showcase their first TNF game on the network this year, but their really is nowhere to go but up for both organizations after their showing in Week 1.

Cincinnati was shutout 20-0 by Baltimore a week ago as five turnovers by QB Andy Dalton (4 INT's and 1 fumble) sealed the Bengals fate rather early. Many out there were expecting Dalton to have a great year now that all his weapons are healthy, but his start couldn't have been any worse. Bettors should expect a highly improved Dalton in this game as he looks to redeem himself, but how much better he'll be is still the question.

Houston's defense is still quite good on paper – although they didn't look it at times a week ago – and the Texans have a history of frustrating Dalton and the Bengals. Houston is 5-1 SU in six games during the Dalton era in Cincinnati and the Bengals have only scored 20+ points in one of those games.

On the flip side, Houston didn't look much better in a 29-7 loss to Jacksonville last week as brutal play by their own starting QB (Tom Savage) prompted HC Bill O'Brien to quickly abandon everything he stated all preseason and give rookie QB Deshaun Watson his chance.

Watson definitely brought a spark to the Texans offense and going forward I believe he is the right choice under center for Houston this year. There will likely be some “growing pains” at times with Watson this season, and this game could very well be one of them as it's his first career NFL road game. But this was a guy that was known to make plenty of big plays in college and once he gets a bit of experience under his belt, I'm sure those big plays by Watson will start to show up in the NFL as well.

Regarding this point spread, fading a rookie NFL QB in his first road game is a solid angle to take, but quite frankly I don't know how you can trust Dalton and the Bengals to win by more than a TD here. Cincinnati's history against the Texans is another red flag for laying that chalk, but it's not like there can be a whole lot of trust in grabbing the points with the Texans either.

Which leads me to the total and at 38, it's likely going to be one of the lowest TNF totals we see all year. A combined 7 points by these two teams in Week 1 has to make many like the low side of this total, especially when the Bengals are on a 1-8 O/U run in their last nine games overall. Week 1 saw the majority of NFL games cash 'under' tickets as well, and bettors that got burned by those results may flip in fear of not wanting to get burned again. However, with nowhere to go but 'up' for both offenses, maybe going a little contrarian and expecting a relatively high-scoring game in this one.

For one, Watson getting the nod gives the Texans that offensive spark right from the get-go. He and the rest of that unit are going to want to make a “splash” after their performance last week, and I believe the rookie won't disappoint. Yet, he's still a rookie on the road and mistakes are likely to happen. What that means is Cincy is likely to force a turnover or two and hopefully give their own QB a short field to work with.

Andy Dalton was all about the turnovers in Week 1 and while he should be much better in that regard, that's not to say he won't cough it up a couple of times again. Yet, the spark Houston got and will get with Watson starting, Cincinnati could get as well with WR John Ross expected to make his debut.

Ross is an absolute speedster who broke the 40-yard-dash time at the NFL combine this spring and he's there to take the top off opposing defenses. Even just the threat of his speed should give Dalton more room to work underneath to guys like A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, meaning that run of sub-20 point performances against Houston is likely in jeopardy.

These two teams may have a history of playing 'unders,' but with the Texans on a 4-1 O/U run on TNF and the Bengals being 20-7 O/U after scoring less than 15 points in their last outing, we should see both teams threaten the 20-point barrier on a total lined like this. Add in a 5-2 O/U run for the Bengals after suffering a double-digit defeat at home, and the headlines after this game could very well be how well both offenses bounced back after disastrous Week 1 efforts. Best Bet: Over (38)

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