The Cincinnati Bengals have never won back-to-back division titles in a full NFL season. Yes, they won the AFC Central in 1981 and again the next year, but 1982 was a strike-shortened season. The Bengals will repeat in the AFC North on Sunday if they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to complete the season sweep. The Bengals also will clinch at least a playoff spot even with a loss as long as the New York Jets or Kansas City Chiefs lose.
The Bengals (10-2) are in the catbird's seat right now -- pun intended -- to have the AFC playoffs come through Cincinnati. New England's second straight loss last week has the Bengals currently as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. That's because Cincinnati's conference record of 8-1 is better than Denver's (6-2) and New England's (7-1). The Bengals haven't had the top seed since 1988 when they lost in Super Bowl XXIII. Winning out gets them it. After this, the Bengals are at San Francisco, at Denver and home to Baltimore. Cincinnati is -4000 to win the North at BetOnline.
Pittsburgh (7-5) is the AFC's No. 7 seed right now despite having the same record as Kansas City and the New York Jets. The Steelers would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker to the Chiefs and don't play the Jets. Pittsburgh also has a shaky 4-4 record in the AFC. After this, the Steelers host Denver and are at Baltimore and Cleveland. Pittsburgh is +1400 to win the division.
Steelers at Bengals Betting Story Lines
Pittsburgh is rolling on offense right now in winning three of four. The Steelers have had at least 30 points in one of those four, and Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 300 yards in all of them. Right now he's working on back-to-back 350-yard games as he followed a 456-yard effort in a loss to Seattle with 364 yards and four touchdowns in last week's blowout of the Colts. DeAngelo Williams continues to shine in the absence of Le'Veon Bell as Williams had 26 carries for 134 yards vs. Indy. Antonio Brown had eight catches for 118 yards and two scores, while Martavis Bryant went four for 114 and a TD. In the Steelers' past four games, there have been six 100-yard receiving performances. Brown has three of them, including a 284-yard performance. There's just no offense like this one in the league right now and this would be a truly scary wild-card team for any division champion.
Meanwhile, Bengals QB Andy Dalton could tie Baltimore's Joe Flacco as the only starting quarterbacks to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons in the league. With a victory, Dalton would also tie Roethlisberger (51) for the third-most wins by a starting quarterback in his first five seasons during the Super Bowl era. That Cincinnati offense is no slouch, scoring at least 31 points in three straight games. Is it as good as Pittsburgh's? No. But the Cincinnati defense is better and it has allowed just 10 total points in a two-game winning streak, albeit against QB-challenged teams St. Louis and Cleveland. Since the Nov. 1 meeting against Pittsburgh, the defense has allowed an average of 12.3 points per game.
Injury-wise, Bengals star tight end Tyler Eifert expects to play after missing last week's game with a neck injury. However, the team is likely going to be without cornerbacks Adam "Pacman" Jones and Leon Hall. Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller is questionable after sitting out Week 13 with a rib injury.
In Week 8 in the Steel City, the Bengals won 16-10 -- the game was a "pick'em". Dalton hit A.J. Green on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 2:57 left for the go-ahead touchdown; Mike Nugent added a late field goal for a bit of a cushion. Dalton had one of his lesser games of the season, throwing for 231 yards and two picks. Green caught 11 for 118. Roethlisberger returned from a four-game injury absence and was rusty, completing 28-for-45 for 262 yards, a first-quarter TD to Brown and three picks (two in fourth quarter). The Bengals really took away any deep passes for the Steelers. Roethlisberger averaged 5.8 yards per pass in that one but averages 8.9 on the season. That was the game in which the Steelers lost Pro Bowl running back Bell for the season.
Steelers at Bengals Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Cincinnati is a 2.5-point favorite (-120) with a total of 50. On the moneyline, the Bengals are -145 and Steelers +125. On the alternate lines, the Bengals are -3.5 (+130), -3 (+105) and -2 (-125). Pittsburgh is 7-4-1 against the spread (3-2 on road) and 4-8 "over/under" (1-4 on road). Cincinnati is 10-1-1 ATS (4-1-1 at home) and 6-6 O/U (2-4 at home).
The Steelers have covered eight straight in December. They are 11-3 ATS in their past 14 vs. teams with a winning record. The Bengals are 7-0 ATS in their past seven at home vs. teams with a winning road record. The under is 8-1-1 in Pittsburgh's past 10 after a win. The under is 4-0 in Cincinnati's past four after a win. The Steelers are 8-3 ATS in the past 11 meetings. The under is 6-2 in the previous eight.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Steelers at Bengals Betting Predictions
That potentially decimated Bengals secondary could be in for a long day. Then again, the Steelers have allowed more than 300 passing yards in three of their last four contests and are ranked 29th in the NFL against the pass. It looks to be unseasonably warm in Cincinnati on Sunday, so I'm going over that total; normally this time of year I'd probably go under. Give the 2.5 points.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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