Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6 SU, 9-6-1 ATS) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4 SU, 12-3-1 ATS)
NFL Wild Card Playoff Round
Date/Time: Saturday, January 9th, 8:15pm
Where: Paul Brown Stadium - Cincinnati, OH
by Bob, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: PIT -2.5 / CIN +2.5
Over/Under Total: 46
Here we go!! The NFL Playoffs are here and this Saturday night on CBS, we have one of the most intriguing games of the first round when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel into Ohio to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. Both of these teams come from the AFC North division and this will be the third time they have met this season. During the regular season, these two teams split the series, each of them winning on the road. The Bengals have been one of the top AFC teams for the last few years, but the success never translates into playoff wins. Will this season be any different?
For the last few weeks all we have heard is how the Pittsburgh Steelers are the team that no one wants to face in the playoffs. Some have even accused the New England Patriots of losing games on purpose in order to avoid an early showdown with the Steelers. I am not sure how true that is, but I would not put it passed the Patriots. The Vegas line even shows that the public is liking the Steelers. As a 2.5 point favorite on the road, the Steelers are getting 64% of the early betting action. Not only has Pittsburgh proven to be a dangerous team, but lets also not forget that the return of Andy Dalton for the Bengals is still in question. His cast is off his thumb but there has been no word on whether or not he will be starting QB for the Bengals. So, injured QB, a team that has been a postseason disappointment in recent history, and playing a team that has won a few Super Bowls over the last decade...you can see why the Steelers are the fave.
I like this Bengals team a lot. I like them much better when Dalton is the quarterback, but even without the Red Rifle, Cincinnati has weapons. AJ Green, Jeremy Hill, and Giovani Bernard help the Bengals stay dangerous on the offensive side of the ball, but not only has the offense been good in 2015, the defense has done their thing as well. In the regular season, the Bengals ended up with the 2nd best scoring defense in the NFL to go along with the 7th best offense. This is a recipe for wins but the elephant in the room...will the Bengals choke again in January? If Dalton plays, which in my opinion, I do not think he will, things will run much smoother for Cincy. With that said, backup QB, AJ McCarron has not done a bad job for the Bengals. Since filling in for Dalton, the Bengals have gone 2-2 and was able to hold on to the AFC North division lead, but they are not as dangerous on offense. The key in this game, especially if McCarron gets the start, is the defense. The Bengals defense will need to help the offense out and keep this game low scoring. The home crowd will have Cincinnati's back, but you have to give them something to cheer for. If Pittsburgh comes out early and takes the crowd out of the game, things could get ugly for the Bengals. Not only does the defense have to keep the Steelers in check, but the offense cannot and I repeat CANNOT turn the ball over. Even if they settle for field goals or even play the field position game, that is okay, but turnovers will end the Bengals season.
The Steelers are being talked about as the team no one wants to face this post season. I understand it because they are finally pretty healthy and they have had playoff success for the most part over the last decade or so, but I think people may be giving them too much credit. Okay, of the wildcard teams in the AFC, yeah, the Steelers are the team I'd rather not face, but this Steelers team has been a roller coast of a team all year. Injuries did play a part in some of their losses, but lets not forget that just two weeks ago, Pittsburgh came close to ruining their chances of even making the post season when they got handled by a bad Ravens team by a score of 20-17. If not for a week 17 win and a Jets loss this past Sunday, the Steelers would not even be in this game, so that should tell you that this team is not THAT dangerous. Do not take this as me bashing the Steelers, I do respect them, and if they made a run to the AFC title game, I would not be totally shocked, my point is people are acting like they are all of a sudden the 1985 Bears, and they aren't. Now, to win this game, Pittsburgh will need to have success in both the passing game and running game. This Bengals defense is legit and if they are able to make the Steelers offense one dimensional, it will be a very long day for Pittsburgh. A balanced attack will keep the Bengals D on their heels, at least enough to have some success. The other key is that if McCarron is playing and Dalton is still out, take advantage. Attack McCarron causing him to make mistakes. Do these things, and I could easily see the Steelers moving on to the Division round of the playoffs.
This is a tough one to pick but I am going to play contrarian here. I like the Steelers a lot, but I just do not get all the hype around them. They are good yes. They have the history to back them yes. But, this season, I just have not been that impressed by them. I think the Bengals get this win regardless of who plays QB. I do see an ugly low scoring game, but I like the Benglas in a 19-16 win over the Steelers.
Bob's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: TAKE THE BENGALS +2.5 AT HOME
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