There are, incredibly, only two teams in the AFC with records above .500 through six weeks of the NFL season. That means that the Bengals at 3-3 and the Steelers at 2-3 are certainly not out of the chase for postseason glory despite sluggish starts. The Ravens are well ahead in the AFC North at 5-1, but with two huge injuries on defense there is hope for these squads, and that hope will be fueled by a win here.
That means the stakes for this game, which are always high when these squads clash, are particularly high now. A loss won’t end the hopes for either team, but it sure puts them into a deeper hole than they would like to be in.
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For the Bengals to earn that win they need to change the recent history in this series. Pittsburgh has won all four of the meetings over the last two years, and they covered all four spreads as well. They have also won and covered in four of the last five games played in Cincinnati. Some of that has to do with the simple fact that the Steelers have been significantly better than Cincinnati over the last five years — and beyond. The Bengals have had their opportunities, though, and they largely seem mentally unable to overcome this particular opponent.
Steelers at Bengals Betting Storylines
The Steelers on the road this year have been like a horror movie for their fans and backers. In their opener at Denver they scored early in the fourth quarter to move ahead 19-14, but then gave up 17 unanswered points to fall 31-19 as 2.5-point underdogs. Two weeks later they were up 31-21 at the start of the fourth in Oakland, but they didn’t score again and a Sebastian Janikowski field goal as time expired was good for the win.
Last week in Tennessee they again took the lead early in the fourth, and again threw it away as time expired on a field goal. The issue clearly isn’t that the Steelers can’t be competitive. It’s that when an opponent shifts into a higher gear down the stretch they are unable to match it. That’s a major concern for this team — especially since they are on the road here.
The slow start in general is a concern. Every year under Mike Tomlin this team has been 6-2 after eight games. Now 5-3 is the best they can hope for, and that would take much better play than what they have shown. It’s hard on any team to struggle, but even harder on one that has never really dealt with it.
While the Steelers are limping into this one, the Bengals aren’t exactly roaring after the last two weeks. They got off to a solid 3-1 start, but losses to seemingly outmatched teams in Miami and previously winless Cleveland have been a real setback for their momentum. When you consider that their three wins only came against Jacksonville, Washington and Cleveland — hardly a murderer’s row of elite squads this year - this team clearly isn’t as strong as even their 3-3 record suggests. Their only strong opponent was Baltimore, and they were totally outclassed.
Pittsburgh has been plagued with injuries all year, and relief is not yet in sight. Most significantly, Troy Polamalu is out of action. His impact clearly exceeds just his play because his leadership has been lacking — especially late in games — while he has been gone. LaMarr Woodley is questionable after having been out the last two weeks, and the linebacker is another key piece on defense. The running game is a mess with both Mendenhall and Redman questionable after being injured (again in Mendenhall’s case) last week. The running game is just 31st in the league, so they can hardly afford the injuries.
Perhaps most significant of all injuries are the loss of offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert and the uncertain status of center Maurkice Pouncey. That means that rookie Mike Adams will make his first start on the line, and other changes could be needed as well. The team has struggled to protect Ben Roethlisberger at the best of times, but now they face the defense that leads the AFC in sacks with 20. If the Bengals can establish the rush early then they could potentially totally shut down the Steelers. Pittsburgh can’t rely on their run game to contain the rush, so Cincinnati could get aggressive and could see positive results. This could prove to be the defining storyline in this game
Steelers at Bengals NFL Odds and Betting Trends
The line opened with the Steelers favored between one and 1.5 points, and it hasn’t yet shown much movement from that point. The Steelers have drawn about two-thirds of bets, but with the line so small there is likely to be little significant movement. The total opened at 45.5 or 46 and has been stable.
The Bengals do not bounce back well. They are just 0-5-3 ATS in their last eight games following a loss. Pittsburgh has gone over the total in each of their last four road games.
NFL Predictions: Steelers at Bengals Betting Picks
Which one of these uninspiring and untrustworthy teams do I trust more? These are not the games I love most. Ultimately, though, the Steelers have two big issues — the lack of a running game and the challenges of contending with the pass rush. That should be enough for Cincinnati to come out on top. In cases where a team is such a small underdog like this I would much rather play the moneyline to get the extra little boost than have the point or two on my side. Given defenses with issues on both sides, I’ll take the over as well.
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