Experience Makes Steelers The NFL Pick In Wild Card Game vs. Bengals

Nikki Adams

Thursday, January 7, 2016 8:57 PM UTC

Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016 8:57 PM UTC

Steelers vs. Bengals is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing games of the wild-card weekend. Check out our NFL picks as we weigh in on this matchup complete with NFL odds.

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NFL Pick: Steelers -3

Best Line Offered: at Heritage


Steelers Road Chalk
The AFC North showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals is the MUST-SPOT game of Saturday’s NFL betting menu, if not the entire wild-card weekend. The Steelers enter the game with a lesser record on the season – 10-6-0 SU with a 6.5-point winning margin – to the Cincinnati Bengals – 12-4-0 SU with an 8.8-point winning margin, the upshot of which saw the Steelers fail to win a second straight AFC North title and squeeze into the playoffs as the sixth seed. Yet, they are matched as the clear-cut favorites across sports betting platforms.

NFL odds makers went to press with the Steelers as the 2.5-point road chalk at the close of week 17 NFL betting, but, almost immediately, the Steelers swelled to 3-points at some sportsbooks and as high as 3.5-points at others. Early NFL betting action was all over the Steelers for the most part, in all likelihood a combination of preconceived notions about each team’s upside in the playoffs and the matchup between Big Ben and backup AJ McCarron (Andy Dalton remains uncertain to start in this pivotal wild-card showdown.

During the season, the pair split the series with each side winning on the road. The Steelers have the most recent win having beaten the Bengals 33-20, all while closing as the +1 road underdogs or thereabouts depending on your sportsbook of choice.

Down the stretch, the Steelers went 4-1 SU – the only hiccup a 20-17 loss to the hapless Baltimore Ravens on the road as the whopping 11-point road chalk. Over that period they also went 3-2 ATS and outscored opponents 157-89 for a 68-point differential or a 13.6-point winning margin.

On the season, the Steelers went 9-6-1 ATS with a plus 4.6-point differential against the spread. On the road, they went 5-3 ATS with a 1.2-point winning margin and a plus 0.9-point differential against the spread. As the away favorites, they went 1-1 ATS with a 6.5-point winning margin and negative 5.5-point differential against the spread.


Bengals Home Dogs
The apparent loss of Andy Dalton at quarterback for the first round of the NFL playoffs has cost the Bengals markedly on the NFL betting floor. All the weapons they have on the offensive-side of the ball, the solid defense that is nothing to sniff at and home advantage for the postseason opener hasn’t amounted to much. Unheralded backup AJ McCarron is set to lead the Bengals into the playoffs, marking his fourth start on the season, and, as far as odds makers are concerned, that is a huge disadvantage. Indeed, this is the first time this season the Bengals are matched as the home underdogs. That’s telling.

It’s not that AJ McCarron is bad but he’s done nothing remarkable in his three previous starts to warrant a favorable outlook for the Bengals over the Steelers and, mainly, in the balance with Big Ben and his wealth of experience.

Ironically, McCarron first saw action this season when he replaced Andy Dalton early in the clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s come full circle since that 33-20 loss at home.

McCarron’s first start resulted in a 24-14 win over the Niners on the road, all while cashing as the 7-point road chalk. In his second start, with a first round bye on the line, the Bengals (+4 road underdogs) lost 20-17, with the weight of expectations and the pressure of the occasion conspicuously getting the better of the backup in the game’s last drive when he fumbled the snap and the Broncos recovered the ball, thereby boggling the attempt to tie the game and send it into overtime. In week 17, McCarron and the Bengals bounced back with a 24-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens but failed to cover as the 10-point home faves.

The Bengals finished the season with a 12-4 SU mark and a 12-3-1 ATS mark, underscored by an 8.8-point winning margin and a plus 4.7-point differential against the spread. As the home team, however, they went 4-3-1 ATS with a 7.4-point winning margin and a plus 0.6-point differential against the spread.


NFL Betting Verdict
Based on the regular season, the Bengals are undoubtedly at a disadvantage without Andy Dalton. However, the postseason is an entirely different ball game and doesn’t Dandy Andy know it. Marvin Lewis is 0-6 SU in the playoffs with the Bengals and with Andy Dalton at quarterback 0-5 SU. The stigma of being a one-and-done side has plagued the Bengals for a long time now, so much so that one wonders whether the Bengals would have even been favored if Andy Dalton were declared fit to start this game.

In any event, we can only contemplate the matchup before us as it is with AJ McCarron leading the charge. The backup did enough to beat the Niners and Raven, albeit those results are hardly a ringing endorsement of his chances in the playoffs. The game that is most relevant is the clash with the Broncos, when the Bengals needed him most to come through with the win for the first round bye he failed. One has to imagine the pressure of the playoffs is only going to be greater than the pressure he faced in week 16.

As a result, it’s hard not to like Big Ben and the Steelers to clinch the win and advance into the divisional round. Experience is going to be key in this game and it underscores our NFL pick. While the Bengals should be competitive to begin with, we expect the Steelers to win and more convincingly than the NFL odds would suggest.

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