Cincinnati Bengals (9-4 SU, 8-4-1 ATS)
The Bengals are poised to win the division but will need to go through the Steel City to do so, at least for this week. The Queen City Cats have reeled off three consecutive victories but none more impressive than their throttling of Andrew Luck and the Colts last week. Andy Dalton paved the way to a 42-28 win courtesy of three passing touchdowns and 275 yards through the air.
Though Dalton appears to be back on track it is the Bengals rushing attack that has been as steady as a cool summer breeze. Both BenJarvus Green-Ellis and shifty rookie running back Giovani Bernard have been grounding and pounding their way through defenses all season. Though they are not putting up eye-popping numbers their consistency has been a key for Cincinnati not to mention the vastly different looks both runners give to opposing defenses. Bernard has also given Dalton another target coming out of the backfield which has resulted in 47 receptions, 403 yards and three receiving touchdowns.
Defensively the Bengals have proved to be one of the stouter units in the entire league. They are currently ranked 7th against the pass, 5th against the run and 6th in points allowed. This is no small feat when you consider they lost Geno Atkins and Leon Hall relatively early on in the season. However, things just got dicier for the Cincinnati defense as cornerback Terrence Newman will miss this week’s meeting with Pittsburgh due to an MCL sprain. Dre Kirkpatrick will attempt to fill the void.
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8 SU, 6-7 ATS)
The Steelers are playing out the rest of a miserable season that has gotten even bleaker over the past two weeks. Losses to the Ravens and last week to the Dolphins have punctured any chance that the Terrible Towels will be waving in January. Perhaps one of the most glaring deficiencies for the Steelers has been a Kleenex Curtain versus a Steel Curtain protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben has hit the dirt 39 times in the backfield this season, tied for third most in the NFL. Injuries have plagued Pittsburgh’s offensive line and it’s been tough for Roethlisberger to find targets when he’s running for his life.
Statistically the Steelers are not as bad as their record would indicate. They are 7th in passing yards off the prodigious arm of Roethlisberger who has managed to stay relatively healthy despite his inept protection while they rank 9th in passing defense. The striking weakness is in their lack of a running game where they average a woeful 77.4 yards per game (31st) and their inability to defend the rush, surrendering over 120 yards per contest.
NFL Free Pick:
The squares will be chucking it in on the Bengals as three-point road chalk in NFL odds and the chance to wrap up the division title. The public is enamored with the emotional aspects of any game and this one lends itself to such a scenario. However, Pittsburgh has been solid at home recently with three consecutive wins over Baltimore, Buffalo and Detroit before falling to the Fins last week. Even in that game Pittsburgh played tough and Miami didn’t take the lead until less than three minutes remaining in a wild snow bound affair.
The Bengals on the other hand do not fare very well on the highway, currently 3-4 straight up and 2-4-1 against the number in NFL odds. I like the home team for one of our NFL picks in this one, despite the importance of the game to Cincinnati. It will be cold in Pittsburgh and the Steelers are still formidable enough to make them a tough team to beat in front of the home crowd.
Play the Steelers +3 at WilliamHill.com in your NFL picks.