Bengals-Titans betting preview: Lay the points in Henry's potential return?

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The AFC's No. 1 seed returns to action following a week off as the Tennessee Titans host the Cincinnati Bengals at Nissan Stadium. With Derrick Henry's potential return Saturday, and the line settling on Tennessee -3.5 after opening below a field goal, one question looms for this handicap: How valuable is Henry?

Although he has a combination of size, durability, and breakaway speed rarely seen before in the NFL, when it comes to betting markets, the answer is a long one.

Bengals @ Titans (-3.5, 47)

The Titans opened as -2.5 point favorites Sunday night only to see money instantly come in to push the line through the key number of -3.

The reasoning is multifaceted, with the Titans having a week of rest, Henry's possible return, and the Bengals suffering a cluster of injuries on the defensive line on Wild Card Weekend.

Without all that, this game, which has settled at Titans -3.5, would be under a field goal. Don't believe me? Let's look at the closing line for Tennessee's home games post-Henry injury and what those lines imply about the Bengals.

NO TEN -3 Saints 0.5 points better
HOU TEN -10 Texans 6.5 points worse
JAX TEN -8.5 Jaguars 5 points worse
SF SF -3.5 49ers 7 points better
MIA TEN -3 Dolphins 0.5 points better

Is anything in the third column true in your mind? If your answer is no, you can probably conclude that these closing lines suggest some combination of three things:

  1. The Titans were undervalued without Henry
  2. This weekend's 3.5-point spread either underrates the Bengals or overrates the Titans
  3. The Bengals' defensive line injuries significantly impacted their rating, bringing them lower than the Dolphins or Saints

While all are possibly true, each point assumes the Titans are a better offense with Henry than without him. A negligible contributor in the passing game, Henry's value lies in what he does on the ground, where he averaged 27.3 carries per game before his injury.

Here are the Titans' game-by-game rushing stats with Henry healthy:

 vs. AZ 86-0
@ SEA 225-3
vs. IND 180-0
@ NYJ 177-1
@ JAX 184-3
vs. BUF 146-3
vs. KC 103-0
@ IND 93-0

In eight games with Henry, Tennessee's rushing attack averaged 149.3 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. After Henry's foot surgery, the Titans foolishly signed Adrian Peterson but turned to younger options three contests into that failed experiment.

Here's how their assortment of runners did in the final six games of the season:

@ NE 270-1
vs. JAX 102-2
@ PIT 201-1
vs. SF 90-1
vs. MIA 198-2
@ HOU 124-0

A combination of D'Onta Foreman, Dontrell Hilliard, Jeremy McNichols, and Ryan Tannehill ran for 164.2 yards per game, adding seven touchdowns.

It's a compliment to the Titans that whether or not they get Henry back - he was cleared for contact Tuesday - they'll be able to run the football because they almost always can. Henry's perceived added value comes from him doing the work of three mortals when healthy, and it's amazing to watch. However, the Titans are 4-3 this season when running for more than 175 yards. Ground success hasn't translated to wins and covers for Tennessee.

On top of that, the 4-3 record came against Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz, Zach Wilson, Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tua Tagovailoa. It may have been worse, but Wilson (overtime win) and Jones (23-point loss) were the only two of those quarterbacks to finish in the top 20 in passing yards per attempt. Joe Burrow led the NFL in that category this season.

Here's how Tennessee's defense fared against the top 10 quarterbacks in that category:

Kyler Murray 289 yards / 4 TD / 1 INT
Russell Wilson 342 yards / 2 TD / 0 INT
Josh Allen 353 yards / 3 TD / 1 INT
Patrick Mahomes 206 yards / 0 TD / 1 INT
Matthew Stafford 294 yards / 1 TD / 2 INT
Jimmy Garoppolo 322 yards / 1 TD / 2 INT

The Chiefs had an infamously strange effort in Week 7, and there were fewer things more painful to watch than the two interceptions Stafford threw on a Sunday night in Los Angeles.

The line move across the key number is based on the likelihood the Titans can run for big yardage against the Bengals and record a comfortable victory. The problem is expectations have increased, and with the Bengals getting over a field goal, it means a three-point Titans win turns a Tennessee bet from a win into a loss. And since the conservative Titans are content with playing out the game to secure a close win, the Bengals become more valuable.

Pick: Bengals +3.5

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

Bengals-Titans betting preview: Lay the points in Henry's potential return?
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