It’s been a tough opening to the season for the Steelers (2-3, 0-3 road), who have endured their worst start to a season since Mike Tomlin took over the reins. This weekend, Pittsburgh heads to Cincinnati (3-3, 1-1 home) looking to steady the ship and return to winning ways.
Cincinnati, after a strong start to the season, is reeling, having lost two straight. Crucially, the Bengals fell last weekend to Cleveland, giving the team a 1-2 divisional record and a proverbial hole to climb out of. Needless to say, this week’s edition of Sunday Night Football comes with a must-win clause for both sides.
Bengals Look To Take Advantage of Banged-Up Steelers
As a rule of thumb, it’s taboo to blame injuries for a team’s win/loss record but you have to feel sorry for the Steelers. A banged-up offensive line has made things tough for Ben Roethlisberger, but not as tough as the absence of a running game.
With starter Rashard Mendenhall sidelined to start the season, Pittsburgh has ranked 31st in running the football, gaining a paltry 74.8 yards per game. Mendenhall returned to the field for clashes against Philadelphia and Tennessee, but now finds himself with an Achilles injury.
Pittsburgh’s offensive woes have been exacerbated by the team’s inability to close out games. In all three losses this season, the Steelers have had the lead in the fourth quarter, only to fall behind.
Cincinnati will hope to take advantage of both Pittsburgh’s injuries and its late-game struggles. Doing so could go some way to masking the Bengals’ own issues.
The Bengals started the season looking sharp, despite losing in Week 1 to the Ravens. Wins over Cleveland, Washington and Jacksonville had the team looking like the playoff team of last year, but the past two weeks have highlighted some chinks in the armor. Neither Miami nor Cleveland was expected to win, yet win they did, leaving Andy Dalton and Co. looking down the barrel of a 3-3 record.
Cincinnati’s strength this season has been passing the football. The team is averaging 282.8 yards per game, good enough for eighth in the league. Passing yards could be at a premium against Pittsburgh, who is giving up just 200.8 yards per game through the air, a record that’s fourth in the league.
The Bengals aren’t much better than Pittsburgh running the football, averaging 99.3 yards per game, ranking 21st in the league. Don’t expect BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Co. to get any help from the Steelers either. Pittsburgh is ninth in the league at stopping the run.
Looking for an Edge
This AFC North rivalry has a wealth of history behind it, and not much of it reads well for the Bengals.
Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 52-32, and has won 10 of the last 13 games and 16 of the lass 22 if you want to go further back. This includes a current four-game winning streak.
Cincinnati last beat the Steelers in 2009 – a season in which it swept the regular season series – but will be more than aware that Pittsburgh has taken 10 of the last 11 at Paul Brown Stadium.
Pittsburgh enters the game as marginal favorites (-1½), a figure that goes a long way to detailing the uncertainty oddsmakers have about both sides. Neither side however has performed well against the spread of late, with the Steelers compiling a 1-4 record – including a 0-3 record on the road – and the Bengals tallying 2-3-1. Cincinnati’s woes date back to last year: the team us 3-9-3 ATS over its last 15 games.
The over/under is 46. Bettors looking for an edge are out of luck. Whilst the total has gone under in six of eight Cincinnati games – and seven of nine Bengals home games – the total has gone over in eight of 12 Steeler games.
Separating the sides ahead of Sunday night’s kickoff is tough, and indicative of how close run this particular AFC North race could be this year. Of course, it’s too early to rule any scenarios out, but it’s already beginning to appear that both sides will be trailing the Ravens come January.