Free Expert NFL Picks: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 12/25/2014
The 2014 regular season comes to a close with a terrific Sunday night matchup between the Bengals and Steelers. Both are in the playoff regardless, but the winner takes the AFC North. The loser is the No. 5 seed and will play at Indianapolis next week. The winner also probably plays next week, but at least at home. My guess would be it hosts Baltimore, presuming the Ravens beat visiting Cleveland on Sunday and San Diego loses in Kansas City. If the Chargers do win, they would be the opponent. The Bengals still have an outside shot at the No. 2 seed, but they would need a Denver home loss to Oakland earlier Sunday, and that's not happening.
Interesting story from Peter King on why the NFL flexed this game to the prime-time slot over Lions-Packers or Panthers-Falcons, two other winner-take-all division games. In a way, Carolina-Atlanta is more intriguing because the loser misses the playoffs entirely. But clearly that game between two teams with losing records isn't all that great. Detroit-Green Bay wasn't taken, even though the Packers are a monster draw, because the NFL had stolen a Week 17 game from Fox the past four seasons and didn't want to again. To make up for taking Bengals-Steelers, the league shifted Panthers-Falcons to CBS so that network would still get a winner-take-all game. Normally that matchup would have been on Fox along with Lions-Packers.
At Bovada , Pittsburgh is the third-favorite to win the AFC at +650 with Cincinnati No. 5 at +1600. You can double up on the division title as well with the Steelers -180 and Bengals at +160.
Bengals at Steelers Betting Story Lines
Many Steelers fans used to want offensive coordinator Todd Haley fired, but this is the greatest offensive season in franchise history so maybe Haley gets another head coaching opportunity. That Cowboys dynasty of the 1990s was led by the triplets of QB Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin. I'm not ready to call the Steelers' Big 3 Hall of Famers yet, but QB Ben Roethlisberger (he'll go to Canton), running back Le'Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown are all having huge seasons. All will head to the Pro Bowl -- unless the Steelers are in the Super Bowl.
As things stand, the Steelers would set franchise records for points per game (27.3), yards per game (415.4) and passing yards per game (300.5). Big Ben has a career-high 4,635 passing yards, trailing only New Orleans' Drew Brees (4,671 yards). Bovada lists Roethlisberger and Brees as even-money co-favorites to win the passing title. Roethlisberger can break his own team record for touchdown passes in a season (32) if he tosses three Sunday night. He also has been picked off only eight times and not in his past 132 throws. Bell leads the AFC with 1,341 yards rushing and has set a Steelers single-season record in yards from scrimmage (2,115). He's only 22. Brown, 26, leads the NFL in catches (122) and receiving yards (1,570). He needs two catches to have the second-most receptions in a season in NFL history. The record of 143 by the Colts' Marvin Harrison in 2002 is safe. Brown could win the receiving Triple Crown if he has a huge day as his 12 TD catches are two behind NFL leader Dez Bryant.
The Steelers enter on a three-game winning streak and have been held under 20 points just once since Week 6: a puzzling 20-13 loss at the New York Jets on Nov. 9. The Steelers haven't been held under 20 yet this year at home. Last week's 20 were the fewest in an eight-point win over Kansas City.
This would have been a winner-take-all game regardless of what the Bengals did Monday night at home against Denver, but a loss there would have been costly as then a loss here could have knocked Cincy from the playoffs entirely. The Bengals were just 2-6 in prime-time games under Andy Dalton entering Monday but upset the Broncos 37-28 on a rainy night. Dalton threw for just 146 yards with two TDs and a pick. The guy who carried the load and who looks like a future superstar was rookie running back Jeremy Hill. He carried 22 times for 147 yards and an 85-yard TD. That was his second straight game with at least 147 yards rushing and fourth on the season. He was mostly an afterthought on the team until November when Gio Bernard got hurt.
The Bengals could have claimed the AFC's top receiver entering this season in A.J. Green, but that has to go to Brown for now. Green didn't catch a pass vs. Denver, took a big hit early in the game and didn't return. An MRI ruled out a torn triceps that would have ended Green's season, but he hasn't practiced this week. The team still expects him to play, but he's clearly not 100 percent. That's big. Look for Dalton to target Bernard and tight end Jermaine Gresham more if Green is limited. Bernard and Gresham combined for 14 catches, 107 yards and two TDs vs. Denver.
In Week 14, the Steelers were 3-point underdogs at Cincinnati but won 42-21. That score is a bit misleading as the Bengals led 21-17 entering the fourth quarter. Bell had two TD runs in the fourth and Roethlisberger found Martavis Bryant for a 94-yard scoring pass. Big Ben threw for 350 yard and three scores. Bell was a monster with 26 carries for 185 yards and those two scores along with six catches for 50 yards and another TD. Brown had nine catches for 117 yards. The Steelers had 543 yards, 229 in the fourth. Dalton threw for 302 and two scores in one of his better games, although he did have a crucial lost fumble in the fourth. Green had 11 catches for 224 yards and a score, but Cincinnati ran for only 86 yards.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Week 17 NFL Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Pittsburgh is a 4-point favorite (-110) with alternate lines of 4.5 (-103) and 3.5 (-117). The Steelers are -200 on the moneyline and the Bengals +170. The total is 48. Cincinnati is 8-6-1 against the spread (4-3 on road) and 6-9 "over/under" (1-6 on road). Pittsburgh is 8-7 ATS (4-3 at home) and 9-6 O/U (6-1 at home).
The Bengals are 9-2 ATS in their past 11 December games. They are 0-4 ATS in their past four after scoring more than 30 points in their previous game. Pittsburgh has covered seven straight against teams with a winning record. The Steelers are 6-0 ATS in their past six December games. The over is 6-1 in Cincinnati's past seven when playing on a Sunday following a Monday night game. The over is 7-1 in the Steelers' past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The Bengals are 2-5 ATS in their past seven in Pittsburgh. The under is 4-1 in the past five meetings there.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Expert Picks and Betting Predictions
I still don't trust Dalton in a big game, plus he battled the flu this week along with some other Bengals. Then you have Green's injury issue. The Bengals have just one win in Pittsburgh this decade, although they do enter on a four-game road winning streak this year. However, Big Ben and Co. have largely been unstoppable at home.
It's supposed to rain during the day when the temperatures are in the mid-40s but no precipitation at night when it will be around 30. I'm quite confident there will be an alternate line of 3 at some point, and I'd prefer that. But for now give the 3.5 and go over.
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