Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5 SU, 7-4-1 ATS) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (10-2 SU, 10-1-1 ATS)
NFL Week 14
Date/Time: December 13/1pm ET
Where: Paul Brown Stadium
by Evergreen, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: PIT +3/CIN -3
Over/Under Total: 49.5
With just a few weeks left before the NFL playoffs, every win or loss has big meaning attached. The AFC playoff picture is going to be shaped significantly by the results of Week 14 and one of the biggest potential swing games features the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have a firm grip on the AFC North but are focused on the possibility of gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs while the Steelers need to keep winning to stay in control of their wild-card prospects. This isnt the biggest rivalry game on either teams schedule but given what is potentially at stake for each team, this should be a rather heated contest.
The Steelers have seen the ups and downs associated with key injuries this season but seem to have patched things together and the online betting sites have listed them as a modest 3-point underdog. Pittsburgh has been a good late season team, going 8-0 against the spread in their last eight games in December. Cincinnati has played well against good competition, winning their last four games against the spread against teams above .500 and are also riding a four game ATS win streak against division foes. The favorite in this series has won seven of the last ten against the spread.
These teams squared off in Week 8 in what turned out to be an ugly 16-10 win for Cincinnati. Pittsburgh lost LeVeon Bell to injury during that game and Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted three times. Despite the poor offensive performance by the Steelers, the Bengals found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter before Andy Dalton found A.J. Green for the go-ahead score with less than three minutes left. Both teams have played better since that game for the most part but we could see another closely fought game with both defenses confident they can limit the opposing offense.
Pittsburgh has only lost one since then, dropping a 39-30 decision in Seattle in what could be considered a great loss seeing how well the Seahawks have played of late. The Steelers have regained much of their offensive production that was missing without Big Ben in the lineup and even the loss of Bell has been covered by the outstanding play of veteran DeAngelo Williams. D-Will is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the season and is as big a part of the passing game as Bell was so the offense is running without many limitations. Roethlisberger has been amazing in the games he has played, averaging 338 passing yards per game and has plenty of weapons to utilize. Cincinnati will counter with a strong defense that gives up yards but not many points, in fact the Bengals enter the week allowing a league-best 16.3 points per game.
It has been a coming-of-age season for Andy Dalton and while the Red Rifle still has to prove the nay-sayers wrong come playoff time, it appears that this version of the Bengals offense is the most complete in any Dalton-led season. Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard lead the 9th ranked rushing offense and the passing game behind Dalton, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert net 27.8 points per game, good for 4th in the NFL. The passing attack should see some success against the 29th ranked pass defense of the Steelers but Pittsburgh has been able to get pressure on the QB with regularity. That has helped the Steelers limit opponents to just 20 points per game and six different pass rushers have at least three sacks.
Both teams enter the game in good health. Pittsburgh may be without TE Heath Miller who is questionable with rib injuries but the Steelers have dealt with that by leaning more heavily on 3-WR sets. Defenses are at a disadvantage in trying to cover Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton and even if the wide receivers can be bottled-up, that has let Roethlisberger work underneath to Williams in the passing game. The Bengals also are looking to get their tight end back in the lineup as Eifert remains questionable with a stinger. His loss can be covered up by spreading the wealth to Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu but the Cincinnati is more limited in the redzone without Eifert and his 12 touchdown receptions.
I dont think there is a real significant edge on paper here so no surprise that Cincinnati is getting the standard 3-point favorite tag at home. Both teams will look to use the run to control the clock and set up the pass. While the Steelers are a bit better through the air, the Bengals secondary has played well throughout the year, led by Reggie Nelson and his seven interceptions. I think Big Ben is the biggest factor in this game. If Cincinnati cannot hold Roethlisberger under 300 yards, the Steelers are going to be in control of the pace of this game and all those Pittsburgh pass receivers will put points on the board. A more methodical, run-oriented game-flow certainly favors the Bengals. I think there are a lot more points scored this week than when these teams met earlier and I expect Pittsburgh to get out to a lead and make Cincinnati chase points. Look for a back-and-forth contest with both teams moving the ball well but it will be Pittsburgh pulling off the upset with a 27-24 win.
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Pittsburgh
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