Gridiron Guide: Bengals will cover against Eagles Thursday night

Cincinnati Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson, right, celebrates

Cincinnati Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson, right, celebrates with cornerback Adam Jones after intercepting the ball during the fourth quarter of a game against the San Diego Chargers. (Dec. 2, 2012) (Credit: AP)

John Boell

Newsday sports writer John Boell John Boell

Boell has worked in the Newsday sports department in various

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BENGALS (7-6)

at EAGLES (4-9), 8:20 p.m.

Bengals by 4; O/U: 45 1/2

TV: NFL; Radio: WFAN (660, 101.9)

In a 16-game NFL schedule, it's amazing how one week -- one game -- can mean so much to a team.

Take the Cincinnati Bengals for instance. They couldn't have been a happy bunch after a tough 20-19 loss to Dallas last week. If Cincinnati had won -- coupled with Pittsburgh's surprising loss to San Diego -- it would have held the sixth and final spot in the AFC playoffs.

Instead, the Bengals are out by virtue of losing to the Steelers in Week 7. The good news for Cincy? They travel to Pittsburgh next week for a critical AFC North tilt.

But first, the Bengals have to play a team some 300 miles east of Pittsburgh: The Philadelphia Eagles.

It hasn't been the season anyone expected in Philly. The Eagles have played hard for head coach Andy Reid the past two weeks, including last week's 23-21 last-second win against the Bucs that snapped an eight-game losing streak. However, it's inevitable the Eagles will blow things up in January and start over.

Philly, which will be without QB Michael Vick and RB LeSean McCoy because of concussions Thursday night, has covered its last two games. Still, it is 3-9-1 against the spread (ATS) this season, including 1-4 ATS as an underdog of four or fewer points.

Weird stat of the week: The Bengals are 11-2 ATS vs. the NFC East dating to Dec. 3, 2000.

The Bengals' defense has an NFL-best 42 sacks. Plus, Cincy punter Kevin Huber is tied for sixth in the league with a 43.2 net average, and has placed 43 percent of his punts (25 of 58) inside the 20-yard line. Cincy QB Andy Dalton and talented WR A.J. Green should be too much for Philly here.

THE PICK: Bengals