by Aengus Moorehead
Steelers: 10-6 SU,8-5-3 ATS
Bengals: 12-4 SU,12-3-1 ATS
When: 8:15 PM ET, Saturday, January 9, 2016
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
The Cincinnati Bengals will attempt to snap a six-game, 25-year playoff losing streak when they host division rivals Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday night in the second wild card game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Pittsburgh was a tad inconsistent this season, losing to opponents they should have beaten, such as the Ravens, and beating opponents they could have easily lost to in the likes of the Broncos. Despite their somewhat uneven play, the Steelers found a way to sneak into the postseason (thanks in part to the Buffalo Bills) as the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
Meanwhile, after beginning the season 8-0, many were ready to include the Bengals in the conversation of Super Bowl favorites. Since then, however, things have taken a turn for the worse for this talented roster. While the defense is playing well, the loss of QB Andy Dalton is a major concern for Cincinnati as they begin their playoff run.
Dalton was having an MVP-caliber season before injuring his thumb a few weeks ago, and his status is uncertain at best for this game against Pittsburgh. Dalton’s absence really affects the ability of the offense to consistently produce points and sustain drives.
That could leave the vastly inexperienced AJ McCarron to make his first playoff start as a pro. McCarron has been competent in his three starts while running a somewhat watered-down Bengals offense. He has completed 65 percent of his passes and averaged 184 yards with four total touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Bengals offense has still been nowhere near as prolific, though. It’s averaged just 20.1 PPG in McCarron’s three starts, way down from the 27.8 it averaged with Dalton at the helm.
Armed with receiver A.J. Green and a dynamic tandem of running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, with tight end Tyler Eifert punishing the defenses down the middle of the field, Dalton was in the midst of one of his best seasons with a career-high 66.1 complete percentage and 106.2 passer rating with 25 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
Despite throwing two INTs (including a pick-six) after coming in for Dalton in his first appearance of the year – a 33-20 loss to Pittsburgh last month – McCarron did get his fair share of success against the Steelers secondary with 280 passing yards and two touchdowns.
However, the Bengals don’t necessarily need McCarron to put up huge numbers to beat the Steelers, especially if Cincy’s second-best scoring defense (17.4 PPG) can play up to its potential and keep Pittsburgh within reach. That’s a very real possibility given how the Steelers offense struggled in the past two weeks against their two inferior AFC North rivals.
As it stands however, the Bengals are one of three home underdogs, during the wild card weekend, against a Steelers squad that’s held the label of “the team no one wants to face” even after dealing with major and costly injuries to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell.
Roethlisberger missed four games due to a sprained knee and a concussion, but still managed to lead the Steelers to the postseason for the second straight year and eighth time overall with 3,938 passing yards and 21 touchdowns to 16 picks while receiver Antonio Brown provided 136 receptions for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The duo was prolific but their work was made all the more possible by veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, who stepped up when Bell went down as the ex-Panther ran for 907 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns at a 4.5-yard per carry rate.
However, the right ankle injury of Williams will be a little concerning, especially with only second-year back Fitzgerald Toussaint left in reserve. Williams injured his ankle against the Browns and did not return.
Cincinnati’s greater dependence on the run due to Dalton’s likely absence will give the Steelers defense a much more advantageous matchup. The Steelers have been able to stop the run very well, and have limited the Bengals to just 3.6 yards per carry over their two meetings this season.
The matchup marks just the second time these two rivals have met in the postseason. Pittsburgh took the only other meeting in 2005 behind three touchdown passes from Roethlisberger in a 31-17 road win, on their way to a Super Bowl title.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals Early Odds & Betting Lines
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The Bengals were a 24-16 winner in their most recent outing at home against the Ravens. They failed to cover the -9.5-point spread as favorites, while the total score (40) made winners of PUSH bettors.
Last time out for Pittsburgh, they were a 28-12 winner as they battled the Browns on the road. The Steelers covered in the match as a -13-point favorite, while 40 combined points moved the game UNDER for totals bettors.
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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals NFL Betting Odds & Trends
Pittsburgh is 4-1 SU in its last 5 games
The total has gone OVER in 4 of Pittsburgh's last 6 games
The total has gone UNDER in 7 of Pittsburgh's last 9 games on the road
Cincinnati is 12-3-1 ATS in its last 16 games
Cincinnati is 12-4 SU in its last 16 games
The total has gone UNDER in 7 of Cincinnati's last 10 games
Cincinnati’s defense should keep this game close but McCarron’s inexperience in the big stage will prove to be the determining factor. He will make mistakes while the Steelers do just enough on offense to escape with the victory. Take Pittsburgh -3 and the under 45½.
Aengus NFL Playoffs Prediction and Pick: Pittsburgh -3 at BetOnline
a.j. green - aj mccarron - andy dalton - antonio brown - ben roethlisberger - cincinnati bengals - deangelo williams - giovani bernard - jeremy hill - le’veon bell