Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (-3, 47 o/u)
Despite all of the talk about the AFC North being dominant this year, the reality is the division is reaping the rewards by playing against the horrific AFC/NFC South teams.
That said, someone has to win the division and odds are this weekend’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5, 3-3 away) and Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1, 4-1-1 home) will be decisive.
The Bengals appear the most ready to take a major step forward, but keeps tripping over itself with bad outings, mediocre play, and [shudder] ties. Quarterback Andy Dalton has gotten into the giving mood a little early this year, throwing four picks in his last two games. The entire offense failed to materialize for much of last week as the Bengals nearly dropped a game to the two-in Buccaneers (14-13).
Part of the team’s saving grace is its defensive backfield, which not only limits opponents to 6.31 yards per pass but also has allowed a league low 11 passing touchdowns.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, “Their secondary is playing as good as any secondary in the NFL right now. [They have] a lot of different looks, double barrel stuff [and] things that we’ve seen in the past. But we’ll always anticipate something new.”
If the Steelers are going to pick up the win on Sunday, it will be Big Ben leading the charge. Like his counterpart Dalton, Roethlisberger has struggled of late, throwing four TDs and five INTs in his last three games.
Coach Mike Tomlin said, “He hasn’t been as accurate as he has been. Some of it is due to some pressure created in the pocket. Some of it is due to game circumstance. Some we lacked cohesion in some instances. None of those things happen in a vacuum when you’re talking about quarterback play. It’s usually unit-play oriented. He can play better, we all can play better, and we’re looking forward to doing it this week.”
Despite Big Ben’s recent struggles, the Bengals know that he has a unique ability to extend the pocket, scramble to buy time, and look for the home-run ball. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is doing his best to account for Roethlisberger’s creativity and unpredictability.
“It takes 11 guys combined in those situations all the time, no matter what,” said Lewis. “It’s whatever the coverage is, and making sure we’re playing the coverage to the best of our abilities, and everybody in the right spots. The rush has to work with the coverage, and the coverage has to work with the rush.”
Considering the Bengals struggled last weekend at home, the Steelers will give Cincinnati a test, which is why taking the Pittsburgh moneyline (+144) is enticing.
(Photo credit: SteelCityHobbies (MRR_0045) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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