The season is on the line for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who travel to Paul Brown Stadium to take on the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals in a contest that will determine Pittsburgh’s playoff chances (1pm ET, Sunday on CBS).
Staked to a three game lead over their closest divisional rivals, the Bengals look poised to return to the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. Pittsburgh isn’t exactly standing in their way, though a win over the Steelers would do wonders for Cincinnati’s confidence given the way last season ended.
The Bengals are 5-1 at home this year including high profile wins over the Seahawks and Chiefs. They faced Pittsburgh already once this year, coming away as six-point winners. However, this game was Ben Roethlisberger’s (pictured) first back from injury, meaning he was not at 100 percent. Looking ahead to Sunday though, Roethlisberger and his team, with the exception of Leveon Bell who is on the IR, are as healthy as they have been. Add that to the fact that Pittsburgh has had Cincinnati’s number over the past few years and the pieces are all in place for this to be one heck of a game.
(CIN) Andy Dalton vs (PIT) Ben Roethlisberger
Ah the QB battle. It’s one of the most important in any given football game. While the signal callers never share the same field at the same time, it is often the head-to-head competition of which outperforms the other that makes the difference.
This is a tall task for Dalton who has never really performed as the better QB in the rivalry ever since he joined the Bengals in 2011. Despite several solid performances, Dalton’s weaknesses have been exposed due to a strong Pittsburgh secondary, ultimately costing the Bengals many of the games during this span.
But in many ways, 2015 could be different. Dalton is putting the finishing touches on what could end up being a career year. He already has career best totals in average yards per pass, a completion percentage of 66.1 and a QBR of 74.4 which is nearly 20 points above his previous best. Dalton’s 25 touchdowns are just eight away from tying the mark he set in 2013 and his six interceptions are seven less than his previous best, from his rookie year, of 13.
Dalton ranks sixth among all quarterbacks in the NFL in touchdowns (25), fifth in completion percentage, eighth in yards (3,191) and 1st in overall rating (107.4). He is having a great year and the Bengals are certainly the beneficiaries.
On Sunday, Dalton faces off against Roethlisberger, who has owned the rivalry in recent memory and who after coming off of injury, has been one of the hottest QBs leading one of the hottest offenses in the entire league.
Last year was a career year for Roethlisberger who led Pittsburgh to have the best offense in the NFL. This year, injury has made it so that the veteran QB has only been able to play eight games but in those eight, Roethlisberger has been as advertised. With 2,707 total yards, Roethlisberger is averaging 338 yards per game, putting him among the top of his position. He is also seventh in completion percentage with 65.9 and sixth in rating with 98.1. Like most QBs however, Roethlisberger has been better on the road than at home.
The battle between these two is going to be hard fought and given that both are really the catalysts of the offense, it is safe to say the one with more success on Sunday will be the one whose team comes out on top. Considering both QBs have top weapons, among the best in the NFL, it is anyone’s guess who will be victorious.
X Factor: (CIN) AJ Green vs (PIT) Antonio Brown
As good as Roethlisberger and Dalton are and have been this season, both have only been able to put up the numbers they have because of the services of two of the best receivers in the NFL, Green and Brown.
If not for an injury to Roethlisberger, which affected Brown majorly, the 27-year-old receiver would have been on pace to top Calvin Johnson’s receiving yards record that was set just a few years back. In games started by Roethlisberger, Brown has failed to hit the 100+ mark just twice. One of those times did come against the Bengals however, as Brown caught just six of his 11 targets for 47 yards. He did have one of his seven touchdowns in that game.
Brown’s numbers are good enough for third in receptions with 93, 2nd in yards with 1,310, second in receiving yards per game with 109.2 and ninth in touchdowns.
Tying Brown in touchdowns is his counterpart Green, who is also eighth in yards with 1,037 and ninth in receptions with 70.
Green has been fantastic for Dalton this year as he has been ever since the duo united after the 2011 NFL Draft. He has been the number one weapon on offense and has been instrumental in Green’s success.
Our Preview’s Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Picks
This game is going to be about offense no doubt about it. Dalton and Roethlisberger are both top 10 quarterbacks with top five receivers. Both teams lead top offenses and while Pittsburgh’s defense is much improved from where it was just a season ago, the Cincinnati offense will still be able to put up points as they have most of this season.
If not for Roethlisberger and Bell’s injuries, Pittsburgh likely would have been right in the hunt for the AFC North. As it stands however, the team is just in it for the wildcard spot and to continue to show their most physical divisional rivals who really runs the North.
- As for the betting pick, the Bengals are favourites by 2.5pts to 3pts which isn’t much but it’s enough for me to recommend taking the Steelers and the points. The best points advantage the Pittsburgh Steelers are offered is +3pts with Bovada @ -125. However the best odds are to take them +2.5pts @ evens with 5Dimes (BetOnline +2.5pts @ -104). We are going to pick the latter of those two options, the +2.5pts @ +100, as our recommended bet. However, we wouldn’t blame you for sacrificing the better odds for the safety of the extra half point.
- As for the total game points which is set at 50pts, given both teams’ propensity for scoring, it’s a safe bet to say this one will hit the over. Here all three best sportsbooks – Bovada, BetOnline and 5Dimes – agree the same odds of -110 for over 50 points.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.