The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football, with both teams hungry for their first win of the season. The Steelers are coming off a pair of close losses after getting wrecked by the Patriots in their season opener, while the Bengals are coming off a tight game on the road where they fell to the undefeated Bills.
From the first whistle to the last we break down the odds for this AFC North showdown and give you our five best bets and predictions.
CINCINNATI BENGALS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-3, 45)
The Steelers are a shell of the offense they were just two seasons ago, with the Killer B’s all gone: Ben Roethlisberger on the IR, Le’Veon Bell with the Jets and Antonio Brown out of the league.
Wait a second, there is one Killer B still left, that’s right it’s kicker Chris Boswell! The 2017 Pro-Bowler is 5-5 on field goals this season and has been the first Steeler to score in two out of Pittsburgh’s three games this season (and was the second Steeler to get on the board in the other contest).
Pittsburgh’s second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph is looking for his first NFL victory after taking over for Roethlisberger. Rudolph has thrown for just 286 yards through his first two career starts and has been especially shaky at the beginning of games. In the first half of those two games he completed just 53.3 percent of his passes for a total of 40 yards.
The Steelers will struggle to punch it into the endzone with Rudolph at the helm but should still be able to move the chains a little bit against a Bengals D that allows 7.3 points per game in the opening frame. We like the Over 0.5 on the Steelers first-quarter field goals. Also consider taking Pittsburgh to get exactly one FG in the first quarter which pays out at an intriguing +180.
PICK: First Quarter team field goals – Pittsburgh Over 0.5 (+137)
FIRST HALF BET
The Bengals defense has been atrocious this season allowing 406.3 yards and 27.7 points per game. They’ve been especially brutal in the first half where they give up 17.3 ppg.
The Steelers are the opposite; while they also have a poor defense they perform better before half time (10 ppg allowed) and then crash and burn in the second half (more on that later).
Even with a lack of game-breakers on offense we like the home side’s chances of being able to cover the modest 1H spread.
PICK: First Half Spread – Pittsburgh -2.5 (-120)
Bengals QB Andy Dalton aired the ball a lot in the first two weeks of the season, with 51 throws in Week 1 against the Seahawks and 42 pass attempts against the 49ers the following week. However, that was largely due to the Seahawks stacking the box to stuff the run while the Niners jumped out to a big lead early and forced Cincy to pass.
Last week, Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon showed signs of hitting his stride, churning out 60 yards on 15 carries and picking up an additional 34 yards through the air against a tough Bills defense.
The Bengals offense plays best when they can lean on their running game. Mixon has had trouble finding holes behind a subpar Bengals offensive line this season but his job should be easier against a Steelers run defense that allows 139.3 rushing yards per game. The Steelers have also been very vulnerable to pass-catching backs, allowing a league-high 73.3 receiving yards per game to RBs.
Take the Over on Mixon’s total yards from scrimmage.
PICK: Rushing and Receiving Yards – Joe Mixon Over 81.5 (-115)
FULL GAME TOTAL
While both teams are pretty bad on defense with Cincinnati 24th in the league in Defensive DVOA and Pittsburgh 26th, they’re actually even worse on offense. The Steelers are 29th in the league in Offensive DVOA while the Bengals are one spot behind them at 30th.
The Steelers not only have an inexperienced QB in Rudolph but they also lack play-makers at skill positions. Running back James Conner is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and has yet to break 100 yards this year, not in a game, in total for the ENTIRE season. JuJu Smith-Schuster is productive but he can’t do it all by himself, and let’s be honest he’s nowhere near as good as a prime Antonio Brown.
While the Bengals have some talented skill players they have a terrible offensive line and they are prone to mistakes, with the most turnovers in the league at 2.7 per game. Pittsburgh on the other hand leads the league in takeaways with 2.3 per game. I’m expecting both offenses to make their share of mistakes in this one. Back the Under.
PICK: Under 45
FULL GAME SIDE
While Cincy got blown out against the Niners in Week 2 they’ve actually been very competitive in their other two games, both on the road. They lost by just a single point against the Seahawks in Week 1 and came back to take the lead in the fourth quarter last week before a late TD by Frank Gore gave the Bills victory.
Those late spurts on offense could prove very useful against a Steelers stop-unit that is giving up a whopping 18.3 points per game in the second half. Pittsurgh might get out to an early lead but they could have trouble seperating themselves from the Bengals, especially down the stretch.
The Bengals are 6-0 ATS in their last six games dating back to last year and are 6-1 ATS in their previous seven games on the road. With the Steelers just 4-10 ATS in their last 14 home contests, take the Bengals to cover as road dogs on Monday night.
PICK: Cincinnati +3