This game could be hyped as a battle between People Magazine vs. VH1, with all the drama surrounding Big Ben and the tandem of VH1 reality stars flanking Carson Palmer. We'll leave that side of the story to TMZ and focus on football.
Before last week, the Steelers could rightfully make the claim they were the best team in the league. Then they were outplayed by the Saints. Losing to the defending champs on the round is by no means a bad loss, but the Steelers didn't look good and were out muscled for a team that prides itself on being tough... this is a bad omen.
The Steelers "steel curtain" is in full effect – they are top five in least points allowed to QB's/RB's and top 10 against wide receivers. This sets up as a game between a dominating defense and, despite it's overall record, a surprisingly useful Cincinnati fantasy offense. That being said, Cedric Benson looks like an especially poor start this week – he only has one 100-yard game this year and averages only 3.8 yards per carry. Plus it looks like he is showing the effects of last year's high usage. Throw in the Steelers no. 2 fantasy run defense and I wouldn't have high hopes for him tonight.
The Bengals passing offense is an anomaly: they are fantasy good, but that hasn't translated into wins. I know you have to hold your nose when starting Carson Palmer, but he's the no. 7 fantasy QB this year. He's a unique combination of atrocious decision making and fantasy hero. The beneficiary of this fantasy goodness has been Terrel Owens.
Owens' rebirth seemed impossible when he was crying on his reality show. At that point, it looked like his only potential athletic relevance would come from an appearance on the inevitable, "Battle of the (Reality) Network Stars" TV show. To his credit, he said he could still play and apparently, he can. On the other hand, what happened to Chad Ochocinco? It looks like sorting through that march madness dating bracket took away from his football preparation.
The Steelers' defense is fantastic and nothing about the Bengals scares you. Up until last week Big Ben looked solid, then the Saints pressured him and he looked a little rattled. We'll see if he can get back to his top ten ability.
The return of Big Ben has tweaked the Pittsburgh focus from running to passing – just look at Rashard Mendenhall's carries (22, 23, 19, 25, 27...15 & 15). Mendenhall is the lead back, nobody is going to vulture his carries, but when Ben is around, the Steelers are a passing team. This bodes well for Mike Wallace and Hines Ward; Ward will work underneath and be a solid PPR guy, while Wallace is the big play guy who really needs to score to maintain value.
Cincinnati always play the Steelers tough. This time at home, throw in the fact that they are in a must-win situation and I expect a close, hard-fought game that probably turns on a terrible turnover by Carson Palmer at the least opportune time. In the end, the Steelers are too strong and will come out on top.
Written by Chris Summers, exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com
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