The Bengals and Steelers are only three weeks removed from their last meeting in Cincinnati. The Steelers got out to a quick start in that one, 14-0, until the Bengals pulled close to make it an interesting finish. The game essentially ended on an Andy Dalton interception deep in Steelers territory as the Bengals were threatening to tie it up. The Bengals lost Leon Hall and A.J Green due to injuries early, and they couldn’t make up for such serious blows. This week, however, A.J Green will be suiting up and will try to start from where he left off before he got injured. Before Green left, he was a menace in the Steelers secondary, most notably hauling in a deep pass while double covered in the end zone. However, the Bengals shutdown corner, Leon Hall, will be watching this one from the sidelines.
Unbelievably, the Bengals are right in the thick of things for a playoff spot. Many fans had the Bengals pegged as one of the worst teams in the NFL, but they have certainly answered the doubters. Andy Dalton, the rookie quarterback out of TCU, has done a spectacular job pulling this team together. The last few seasons the Bengals have lacked any leadership, but Dalton has answered that calling, exceeding everyone’s expectations. Not only is he showing off his leadership skills, but his performance on the field has been above average for a rookie as well. Dalton has 16 TDs and 12 INTs on the year, with an 81.8 passer rating. Against the Steelers a few weeks ago, Dalton didn’t seem intimidated by the Steelers defense and did what he could without Green. He passed for 170s yards and 2 TDs with 2 INTs, but looked sharp before Green was injured. This time around, Dalton will have Green back; however, he won’t be in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium.
The defense of the Bengals has been another pleasant surprise. Ranked 5th in total defense, they have played gritty football, especially against the run where they are only allowing 92 yards per game. The Steelers defense is of course, as you probably already know, a top-notch unit. And they are getting healthy at the right time. The last few weeks they have definitely been banged up, but they will have LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, and James Farrior at their disposal on Sunday. I expect the Steelers to pressure Dalton, Dick Lebeau loves to feast off of rookie quarterbacks, and now he has an array of weapons to throw Dalton’s way. Troy Polamulu left last week with an apparent concussion, but is listed as probable for this game and will start.
Bengals vs. Steelers Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Cincinnati Bengals +6.5
@Pittsburgh Steelers -6.5
Over 42.5 (-110)
Under 42.5 (-110)
Bengals vs. Steelers Pick:
There has been plenty of love going around for the Bengals recently, but they are still only 1-4 against teams with winning records. In those games, the Bengals held around, but there was never a sense to me that they were in control. I was always waiting for the Bengals rookie quarterback to make a critical mistake to change the game, and sure enough he did. I’m not knocking Andy Dalton by any means, he has exceeded my expectations, but can he do something he hasn’t done all year, and that is win a premier game? I asked myself this same question three weeks ago, and I’ll come to the same conclusion: no. Dick Lebeau has an outstanding record against rookie quarterback, 12-1, and it should improve to 13-1 this week.
With the Steelers defense getting healthy, I think the Bengals are going to come up short again. The Steelers barely made it by the Kansas City Chiefs last week, 13-9. After that performance, I believe the Steelers will get their offense back on track at Heinz Field. It could be close for three quarters, but the Steelers will pull away late in this one.