A pivotal AFC North clash pits the Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3) on Sunday Night Football.
The Steelers have had the upper hand in this series, winning the nine of last eleven. There’s no love lost between these rivals, though, as Cincinnati will be gearing up to take a two-game lead on their hated foe.
Pittsburgh looks to be searching for their identity following a Thursday night loss to a middling Tennessee team. Can the Bengals seize the opportunity? Sunday night will have the answers.
As for the game odds and predictions, this is your cheat sheet.
When: Sunday, October 21 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Live Streaming: NBC.com
Spread: Cincinnati -2.5 (Bovada)
This game is essentially a pick-em, with Cincinnati being given just under a field goal due to home field. For those wondering why the Steelers aren’t favored, that’s because the rest of the world will be on the Steelers thinking the same thing.
Pittsburgh is one of the most publicly-bet teams in all of sports. Therefore, when Vegas sees a toss-up opportunity to take a ton of Steelers money, they set this line.
The Bengals meanwhile have been one of the league’s mystery teams; they’ve gone .500 against the spread and have not beaten any teams above .500 yet. Ride with Andy Dalton and Co. at your own risk.
A surprisingly low number by my standards, as both teams have receiving threats that can take it to the house in a matter of seconds.
Nevertheless, neither team has been able to establish a run game throughout the year. Both rushing offenses rank in the bottom-10 of the league, so some offensive stagnancy could take place.
Plus these teams know each other pretty well; nothing will come easy as they get reacquainted.
#Steelers official injury report: Carter, Gilbert, Mendenhall, Polamalu, Redman OUT; Pouncey questionable; Johnson, Timmons probable— Chris Adamski (@BuzzsawPGH) October 19, 2012
Steelers: Jonathan Dwyer
For those looking for a fill-in for DeMarco Murray and Rashard Mendenhall, look no further than the latter’s replacement.
Dwyer will get the starting nod against a Bengals defense that ranks in NFL’s bottom-10 rush defenses.
He is a breakaway threat in the Steelers backfield, having at least one run or catch of 18 yards or more in every game this year. Plus he can produce in the passing game, which could pay dividends with Roethlisberger scrambling for pass-catchers.
Bengals: AJ Green
The highest-scoring fantasy WR in the game has another juicy matchup this Sunday. Ike Taylor will be seeing a ton of Green throughout, which bodes well for the second-year receiver.
Taylor has struggled so often this season, jokes about the Steelers’ corner have become almost commonplace:
"C'mon, Ike Taylor's not THAT bad." - no one— Evil Mike Tomlin (@EvilMikeTomlin) October 12, 2012
Not a good matchup for Taylor. Great news for Green’s fantasy owners.
Steelers Key to the Game: Finding an Offensive Rhythm
Pittsburgh didn’t look like they even got into a groove last Thursday against Tennessee and it cost them. Now with 10 days to prepare, the offense should be better served to put up points against Cincinnati.
They won’t have their prominent running backs, but backups Dwyer and Baron Batch have shown they can produce. Better yet, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller need to establish themselves as dominant presences in the second level.
And if Ben Roethlisberger could get some time to throw, this team could look like a playoff contender. There may be too many questions for Pittsburgh to bring it all together in Cincinnati
Bengals Key to the Game: Containing “Big Ben”
The Bengals have let a couple rookie quarterbacks get the best of them as of late. Meanwhile, Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill have a tad less experience than Roethlisberger.
The Bengals will need to be up to this task of shutting down the Pittsburgh star QB. This means not only pressuring him, but containing him in the pocket so he cannot make his patented-scramble and throw for 15 yards all night.
It will be a tougher task than they may have planned for in the meeting room.
Prediction: Steelers 30 Bengals 28
I’m inclined to go with the Steelers here, as the Bengals have yet to beat anybody good to warrant a win over a team that has their number.
In Vegas’ case though, I like the small home favorite on Sunday Night Football. Stranger upsets have happened in night games, and they always seem to end up in the home teams’ favor.