It’s been a very, very strange NFL season thus far, so it’s nice to have things we can always rely on- the Patriots beating the Jets, the Bills doing funny things in overtime, and chippy, entertaining matchups between AFC North teams. The latter is one of the most eternal themes in the modern NFL, and this weekend we’ll get another edition as the Bengals visit the Steelers. Cincy still have some playoff aspirations- they weren’t in a much better position this time last year, and they still found themselves in the Super Bowl. As for the Steelers, it’s much more about the future; what kind of gains can Kenny Pickett find over the last few games of the season? Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this Midwest rivalry clash.
Bengals Vs. Steelers Betting Odds
The Bengals are four-point road favorites; that could be an extremely significant number, so be on the lookout for it to move by even half a point in either direction, depending on which side you want to bet. The points total is a tough one to nail down as the two teams have very different identities, but it’s set at 41 for now.
Bengals Vs. Steelers Prediction
The Steelers are 3-6, but showing signs of life with rookie QB Kenny Pickett at the helm. They’ve won 2 of their past 4 games, including a win over longtime nemesis Tom Brady, and one of the losses included an impressive showing from the defense, where they held the top-tier Miami offense to just 16 points. And now, they’ve just returned TJ Watt, possibly the best defender in the sport with post-championship Aaron Donald phoning it in half of the time. He could be an enormous boost for this team down the stretch as they try and grab some positives to carry into the offseason.
Cincy has also experienced something of an up-and-down campaign, starting with an opening day loss to these Steelers; they find themselves just over .500 around halfway through the season. Their resurgence has been hampered by the loss of superstar wideout Ja’Marr Chase, the effects of which were on full display in a brutal loss to the Browns. We saw it back at LSU, we saw it in the 2020 NFL season, and we’re seeing it again now; Joe Burrow is simply not the same quarterback without Chase at his side. This week will be an interesting test; the Bengals looked like they were back last week with a dominating win over the Panthers, but that’s sort of like building a lego set and using that as evidence that you could be an aerospace engineer. It will be intriguing to see how a Chase-free Bengals team looks against a pass defense that had already been generally solid, and now returns its best player.
This is a really tough one to pick; I don’t have a lot of faith in either team at this point in the season. It’s entirely possible that the Bengals simply outclass the Steelers with superior talent and experience, but given the script of the last matchup between these teams, the absence of Chase, and frankly the gulf between Mike Tomlin and Zac Taylor as game managers, I’m going to take the underdog Pittsburgh to cover, although I wouldn’t hate a line of even +4.5. For the points total, I’m a big fan of the under; the offenses are missing players, the Steelers defense is getting some back, and it’s an AFC North game in Pittsburgh, why overthink it?
- The Bengals are a pretty streaky team- they’re 11-2 ATS in their past 13 games following an ATS win, and 9-2 in their past 11 following a straight up win.
- The over hasn’t hit once in the Bengals’ past 9 games against AFC opponents, and it’s only happened once in the past 8 home games for Pittsburgh
Bengals Injuries: Ja’Marr Chase (O), Chidobe Awuzie (O), D.J. Reader (Q)
Steelers Injuries: Minkah Fitzpatrick (Q), Chris Boswell (O), William Jackson (O)
Bengals vs Steelers Key Matchups
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Bengals Vs. Steelers below.
Steelers Offensive Line vs. Bengals Front Seven
With an offense largely devoid of skill-player star power and a rookie QB at the helm, a game can often be decided at the line of scrimmage. The Steelers o-line has been just about average in both pass and run blocking this year, 12th and 19th respectively, as per PFF’s grading system. The Steelers have had their entire line intact all year, which is not something to take for granted at this stage of the season. Right guard James Daniels has been the best overall blocker so far, garnering a score of 77.5 in pass protection as he’s yet to allow a sack and has a pass blocking efficiency rate of 98.5%; he’s also had only one penalty accepted against him all year. Both tackles, Chukwuma Okafor and Dan Moore Jr., have both been disappointing both in pass and run blocking; they’ll need to be better this week to help Pittsburgh establish the run early and often in this one.
Those lackluster Steelers tackles will be going up against a true star on the defensive line, edge rusher Trey Hendrickson who is having another outstanding year. He has an overall defense grade of 85.8 from PFF, propped up largely by an 89.5 in pass rushing. He misses just over 5% of his tackles, and has a win rate of just below 20%. On the other side of the line, Sam Hubbard has been the team’s best run stopper, although he has struggled to a degree with tackling. The starting linebacker duo of Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt has been decent, they’ve been effective enough in coverage and Wilson is one of the best tacklers on the team. The Steelers offense is far from a juggernaut, but points may be at a premium on the other side of the ball; a complete shutdown of the Pittsburgh offense would go a long way towards a Bengals win, and it all starts at the line of scrimmage.
Bengals Rushing Offense vs. Steelers Run Defense
With Chase out, there’s still plenty of talent in the air game, but it may not be as prolific as usual; let’s examine whether or not Cincy will be able to compensate with their rushing attack. PFF sees them as extremely average in both run blocking and rushing, 15th and 16th in the league, respectively. The attack is of course led by Joe Mixon with Samaje Perine taking a pretty small RB2 role this year (25 carries and no rushing scores so far). Mixon has struggled a bit outside of one enormous game against Carolina, as he’s averaging under 4 yards a carry this season. Unshockingly, this leaves the Bengals in the bottom-6 for team rushing yardage per game. La’el Collins has been surely the brightest spot in terms of run blocking, as newcomers Ted Karras and Alex Karras have failed to deliver top performances at their interior offensive line positions.
It’s impossible to have a good-faith conversation about this Pittsburgh defense by only discussing their performance this season to date; Watt’s presence has to be accounted for, and he was excellent in week 1 against the Bengals before going down with that injury. He’s been a very good to excellent run defender in the past, and as he gets comfortable again following his injury, that should all but certainly be the case going forward. In Watt’s absence, d-lineman Cameron Heyward has unsurprisingly been the team’s best run defender, garnering a PFF grade in the mid-80s due in part to missing no tackles, and putting up an excellent stop percentage of 11.3%. If he’s unable to go, they’ll miss Minkah Fitzpatrick coming up to play as a box safety, but this is the Pittsburgh Steelers; they’ll always field a competitive defense, especially against the run, and even more so with their best player getting healthy again. A signature team performance against the run would put the Steelers on track to pick up a big rivalry win.