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Why Are the Bengals a near pick-em in the AFC Championship?

Why Are the Bengals a near pick-em in the AFC Championship? article feature image
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Picture by Getty Images. Pictured: Joe Burrow.

After the Cincinnati Bengals’ blowout victory over the Buffalo Bills, a number of football fans on social media had the same question:

Why did the Bengals open as a 1.5-point road underdog in Sunday’s AFC Championship against the Chiefs?

And why had that line moved so substantially in the Bengals’ favor —  to Cincinnati -2.5 at some shops early in the week? And why did that number swing back to Chiefs -1 overnight on Wednesday into Thursday morning?

Home field advantage in the NFL is worth approximately 1.5 to two extra points, PointsBet trader Mike Korn told the Action Network on Tuesday.

The Bengals had been +2.5 at home during these two teams’ matchup in December.

That means the Chiefs would have been favored by roughly 6.5 points at home on December 6th. Yet six weeks later, the Chiefs are playing the Bengals at home as just a one point favorite.

Theoretically, that would add up to a roughly 5.5-point line change.

Is this significant change in theoretical odds within a six-week period due to Patrick Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain, or are the Bengals finally earning some respect from oddsmakers after Joe Burrow’s fifth career postseason victory?

Caesars’ Assistant Director of Trading, Adam Pullen, believes Mahomes’ injury is the biggest factor in the change in odds, stating that his ailment is worth roughly four points to the line.

“When you take away a quarterback of his caliber and his ability to play at 100%, it drastically changes the game plan,” Pullen said. “He’s not going to be making some of the throws. He can’t plant on that foot. Maybe things will change during the week, but, historically, this is a four- to six-week injury.”

Pullen indicated Mahomes’ injury was worth four points to the line earlier in the week when the Bengals were favored by one; now that Mahomes has looked good in Wednesday’s practice, the line has shifted two points in Kansas City’s favor. Thus, the injury may now only be worth 2 points to the AFC Championship line.

The injury will impact Mahomes’ spontaneous style of play; he did not throw a single pass outside of the pocket in the second half Sunday’s game for the first time in his career, according to Next Gen Stats.

According to FOX Sports’ injury and performance analyst Matt Provencher, Mahomes could “be down about 12 to 18% in overall offensive productivity, especially in quarterback rushing yards, and more of a limited potential to throw the long ball.”

Still, Pullen would not underestimate the way in which the Bengals won on Sunday and its impact on the line. Pullen says, “When you get to this point, it is not if you win, but how you win.”

Pullen believes the Bengals’ blowout of the Bills in Buffalo accounted for at least a point to 1.5 points in value towards the Bengals — meaning it’s as valuable to the line in comparison to Mahomes’ injury at this juncture in the week.

Assuming Cincinnati’s win over Buffalo and Mahomes’ injury combined for 3.5 points in line movement towards in the team’s favor for the AFC Championship, there are still two points unaccounted for in the “theoretical” 5.5-point change since the two teams last matched up on December 6th.

Where could those final few points come from?

According to DraftKings, oddsmakers may finally be recognizing Joe Burrow’s dominance over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Burrow improved to 3-0 against Kansas City on December 6th and this latest win may have stamped a narrative that Burrow owns the Chiefs.

And, finally, there’s the way that money has flowed in on the game. According to Action Network data, 79% of the spread bets and 74% of the money has come in on the Bengals since the line was posted.

PointsBet told the Action Network on Tuesday that roughly 80% of their handle is on the Bengals ML and spread.

BetMGM provided a figure between 70 to 80%.

For more insight on the sharp action moving the line, check out our story on the historic line movement this game is seeing.

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