This article is part of our NFL Picks series.
Sometimes you live in a state (Georgia) that does not have legalized gambling. But sometimes you also live an hour and a half from a state that does (Tennessee) and you figure, hey, why not take a day trip up to Chattanooga and see what these sportsbooks have to offer?
And so, that's what I did Monday as I made my way up the Cumberland Plateau and past Lookout Mountain to get to The Scenic City. Once there, I grabbed an Americano, logged into DraftKings and got down to business.
My approach was fairly straightforward. I wanted to put some money behind my thoughts on the game, where I feel there is a legitimate chance Cincinnati not only covers but wins outright. But I also wanted to dive into the robust menu of wagers specific to this game that we aren't usually treated to, from funky props to things like Jersey Number of the First Touchdown. Unfortunately, betting on the Gatorade color was not available yet. Still, I managed to put together a fun card that'll keep me interested in a wide range of things Sunday.
As Dan Fouts said many times in The Water Boy, it's the last game of the year, can't hold anything back now. That's why I plunked down on a six- and an eight-leg parlay.
The Eight Legger (+25000)
Simple enough. All we need is for the Rams to get out to a hot start, preferably with a Cooper Kupp touchdown, but also have the Bengals catch up and ultimately win in a high-scoring back-and-forth where the run is abandoned save for Joe Burrow running one in. Easy enough, right?
Six-Leg parlay (+1600)
Not great value for a six-leg parlay, admittedly. Each leg seems to be well within reason in a vacuum, though, and none of them seem counterintuitive to the other. Put another way, if this game becomes high scoring (hence the OVER) and competitive (Bengals spread), it wouldn't be surprising to see Kupp and Chase have big games in tandem.
LA Rams to Score First Touchdown (+2800) and Bengals Defense Anytime Scorer (+500)
The Rams had a grand total of zero defensive touchdowns during the regular season, but that doesn't bother me. Defensive touchdowns are mostly random occurrences anyway, and the Bengals are the less-experienced team in this spot so some early jitters wouldn't shock me. The Rams' lack of defensive touchdowns didn't factor in during the Wild Card game when David Long had a pick-six gifted to him by Kyler Murray.
There's also the well-documented mismatch between the Rams' pass rush against an overmanned Bengals' offensive line. Does Cincinnati emphasize getting the ball out of Joe Burrow's hands quickly to mitigate the rush? Or get the run established?
As for the Bengals defense, Matthew Stafford led the league in interceptions (17) during the regular season and threw a pick in the NFC Championship Game. Maybe Cincinnati can make Stafford pay for a slip-up.
Trey Hendrickson: Player to Record First Sack (+500)
The Bengals' defense is flying under the radar coming into this game as much of the discourse has centered on what happens when Cincinnati has the ball against Los Angeles. That's fair, Los Angeles is more star-studded on defense and gets that aforementioned mismatch against Cincy's O-line. But let's not lose sight of this Bengals defense that racked up 42 sacks during the regular season and held the Chiefs to three points after halftime at Arrowhead. Hendrickson, for his own part, had 14 sacks in the regular season and has 2.5 in the postseason. He's a force off the edge and though he'll draw the tough assignment of solving Andrew Whitworth, Hendrickson has the decided athletic advantage over the elder statesman. And it's not like Matthew Stafford is the most mobile guy in the world. I figured at +500 (3rd highest), it was worth a shot to put down on Hendrickson getting the first sack.
Exact Total Game Sacks: 6 (+350)
Much has been made of the Rams' advantage in the trenches and on the edge versus the Bengals' offensive line. Joe Burrow took a league-leading 51 sacks in the regular season and was famously sacked nine times in the narrow victory over the Titans. The Rams will put him on his back several times and the Bengals have a lively pass rush of their own, so look for Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard to get home once or twice as well. 7 or More sacks had the best odds at +250, followed by 5 (+300) while 4 and 6 sacks are tied at +350. This is a bet that the pass rush from both teams will be a significant factor, but won't be the be-all-end-all.
Any Quarterback to Throw for 400+ Yards (+850)
This has happened all of three times in Super Bowl history. Tom Brady did it in back-to-back Super Bowls (LI and LII) and Kurt Warner did it against the Titans in Super Bowl 34. I'm emboldened by the fact that this game features two very good quarterbacks in systems that throw the ball on 59% of their offensive plays. Game flow could skew this matchup into a back-and-forth with both quarterbacks dropping back north of 40 times.
This remains an admitted longshot to hit. Again, historical precedent goes against this happening, and with this being Burrow and Stafford's first super bowl appearance, both could start slow and fall well short of the mark. Still, we get two quarterbacks playing at a high level with great skill groups around them. Burrow himself hit this number three times this season. At +850 with just one of these players needing to get there, it's worth a shot.
Again, I expect the Rams to get off to the better start, which will put the Bengals in catch-up mode. The Bengals are comfortable in that type of setup. They've only scored first in 35 percent of their games while the Rams have scored first 65 percent of the time, including the playoffs.
In short, Burrow should push for 35+ attempts and if he maintains the 8.7 YPA he established through his first 19 games, 300 yards should be well in play. Getting his yardage total at 273.5 feels almost too good to be true. Does that make this a sucker bet? Perhaps. But I've learned to not bet against Joe Burrow.
As for his longest completion, Burrow had 15 completions of 40+ yards during the regular season and has tacked on three more in the postseason. Ja'Marr Chase had eight of them in the regular season and one thus far in the playoffs. The Jalen Ramsey factor is obviously a big constraint on Chase's odds of getting one of those, but it's not like he's the only show in town. Tee Higgins is a big-play threat in his own right and outside of Ramsey, the Rams don't have a true lockdown corner. If Ramsey is shadowing Chase, Higgins and Tyler Boyd will have significant physical advantages over the likes of Darious Williams and David Long.
Looking at this bet another way, do you see Burrow dropping back 35-40 times and not hitting at least one big play? I don't. I'll take the over 38.5 for his longest completion.
Jersey Number of 1st Touchdown: Under 23.5 (-140)
This is a lot of juice to be giving up on such a goofy bet. But think of the options that the under 23.5 affords you. Cooper Kupp, Ja'Marr Chase, Odell Beckham, Cam Akers, Van Jefferson. Heck, even Jalen Ramsey (5) or either of the quarterbacks (9) are in play. The liability comes more so if the Bengals score first. Joe Mixon and Tee Higgins definitely make me nervous here, as does C.J. Uzomah if he's even close to full-go. I'll bank on a hot start from the Rams – they scored first in 65 percent of their games compared to 35 percent for the Bengals – that gets channeled through one of their stars.
Will There Be a Missed FG/XP (+110)
This mostly hinges on the leg of Matt Gay as Evan McPherson has established himself as the second-best kicker in football. We saw Gay miss field goals in each of his last two games, including being short on a 47-yard attempt in Tampa Bay. It helps that he's kicking on his home turf but there's still a distinct possibility that something's off with him given the recent history. I'll take the plunge at plus-odds.
No Offensive Score on 1st Drive of the Game (-200)
I'm giving up a lot of juice here but history says there's a strong chance that this hits. Since 2000, 13 opening drives have resulted in punts and only one touchdown has been scored on the opening drive. I'd feel even better about this if Cincinnati gets the ball first as we've established that the Bengals aren't a fast-starting team.