As of this writeup, the Bengals somewhat surprisingly have the second lowest Vegas implied team total on the main slate. And sure, the Bengals are without A.J. Green, and they really don’t have much at wide receiver behind him. But this is a team that has potentially upgraded at head coach, has certainly upgraded in play designs, and that averaged 23 points per game last year (a respectable 17th in the NFL). The Seahawks averaged 21.6 points per game allowed at home, and they are not the same defense they have been in the past (they’re not even the same defense they were last year). Seattle is extremely strong at linebacker, but they are expected to have one of the worst pass rushing units and one of the most suspect secondaries in the NFL. A Vegas implied team total of 17.0 is too low, and I’m expecting it will rise before we reach kickoff.
The biggest potential impediment to the Bengals topping 17 points is the ball control style of play that the Seahawks adopted last year and that they appear ready to double down on this season. The Seahawks were the first team in ages to run the ball at a higher rate than they threw the ball, with an offense designed to hammer the defense repeatedly with physical runs before building in play action designed to take shots downfield. Only four quarterbacks had a deeper average intended air yards than Russell Wilson (and two of those four quarterbacks played for the Buccaneers; the other two – if you’re wondering – were our boys Josh Allen and Sam Darnold). Especially against a defense like the Bengals (which finished dead last in 2018 in yards allowed per game while finishing 30th in points allowed per game), Russ carries serious upside with the downfield style of this team’s passing offense – with opportunity available for multiple big plays to hit, and for Russ to pile up points as a result. On the flip side, of course, is the low floor you have to take on in order to chase this upside. While the Seahawks finished fifth in passing touchdowns last year and sixth in yards per pass attempt, they finished 27th(!) in passing yards. Meanwhile, the Bengals allowed the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL last year while allowing running backs to hit them for 4.9 yards per carry. Given how forceful the Seahawks were last year about running even in difficult matchups, there is no reason to expect them to do anything but lean on the run here. If chasing after Russ and Tyler Lockett, then, you’re essentially saying one of two things: either 1) that you think these guys can connect for a big-play on one of their opportunities, or 2) that you think the Bengals will be able to make noise on offense and force the Seahawks to get more aggressive (hint: given what we saw last year, this second scenario would require the Bengals to take a big lead, as Seattle remained committed to the run last year even when falling behind by two scores early). There are better plays on the slate than that first scenario, but Russ and Lockett are absolutely a strong enough connection that it isn’t a crazy play. As for the second scenario: if this is why you are rostering Russ and Lockett, be sure to finish off that thought by bringing back your stack with pieces from the Bengals.
We should expect the Bengals to try to be aggressive and score points; and they will likely center their offensive efforts around Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, and the tight ends – with perhaps three or four targets going to Josh Malone, and with John Ross being given a couple shots downfield.
With the Bengals carrying so little at wide receiver behind Boyd, the Seahawks will have had several weeks to design their Week 1 coverages so that Boyd is always heavily accounted for. The opportunity associated with a number one receiver gives Boyd a path to a worthwhile game — especially against a secondary that carries Week 1 question marks across the board; but expect Seattle to do what they can to force Josh Malone and John Ross to beat them.
The most intriguing play on this side of the ball is Mixon. Mixon saw his volume rise and dip last year based on game flow – still maintaining pass game involvement when the Bengals fell behind, but not seeing the sort of volume you would want associated with his lower-high-end price. But this is also a new coaching staff, and there is an interesting game theory angle here in that Mixon is a potential 22+ touch back in the “Todd Gurley role” for this offense; and because he is a road underdog back (on a team with the second lowest Vegas implied team total on the slate, no less), his ownership will likely be far lower than his percentage chance of hitting his upside. There are, of course, other running backs with a better matchup (though Seattle did allow the third most receiving yards to running backs last year), but from a game theory perspective, Mixon is worth keeping in mind: i.e., not asking, “Who is the best on-paper play?” But rather, “If we played this slate a hundred times, which play would make me the most total money?”
Note :: With Clowney added in Seattle, their run defense will definitely improve. Though…with how overlooked Mixon is going, the case above still stands as well. He’s a guy who could get you 30+ at minimal ownership. Purely through role and matchup, Mixon would top 30+ at least 10 times (possibly 15) if we played out this slate a hundred times. The upside is still worth targeting with a percentage of MME play.
And of course, the most intriguing play in this game as a whole is Chris Carson, who has a pristine on-paper matchup against a Bengals defense that last year allowed the fourth most rushing yards and the fourth most receiving yards to backs. The hype train on Carson has gotten a bit out of control lately given that his carries down the stretch last year in games in which Rashaad Penny played came out to 17 // 16 // 13 // 22 // 19 // 13; but he is the clear and adamant leader of this committee, on a team that wants to run perpetually, and he can comfortably be given a projection of 16+ carries and three or four receptions, with touchdown upside, and with potential for his workload to grow from there if the Seahawks truck the Bengals in this spot.
JM’s Interpretation ::
There are simply more aggressive passing attacks than the Seahawks and better passing attacks than the Bengals available to choose from on this slate, which will almost certainly leave me completely off of this aspect of this game. As noted above, Russ carries upside if you want to go there (though I’d rather target QB upside with a higher floor myself), and both Lockett and Boyd are respectable bets to produce. (You could even get crazy if you wanted in this spot. For example: I don’t believe I have ever played John Ross; nor have I ever been disappointed that I didn’t play John Ross, as he has simply not adjusted well to NFL techniques and precision. But he has at least a two-in-fifty shot at a big game here; and I wouldn’t think it was crazy to include him in MME builds accordingly.)
The running backs are more appealing. I’m fading reports that Giovani Bernard is going to steal piles of work from Mixon, as Mixon is just a much better player than his counterpart — which leaves me comfortable targeting Mixon’s upside in at least some large-field builds, as he has the upside to pop at low-ish ownership if given a shot. And of course, Carson stands out as one of the safer bets on the slate, with a lock-and-load 18+ touches in a great matchup, and with additional volume/touchdown upside from there.