NFL Picks: Bengals vs. Steelers Betting the Spread

Jason Lake

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 2:54 PM GMT

The Pittsburgh Steelers were crushing the football lines for a while there, but now they’re on the brink of elimination with the Cincinnati Bengals coming to town.

Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013, up to December 10 inclusive:

35-29-2 ATS

1-1 ML (+0.71 units)

8-14-1 Totals

Behind every successful man, there is a right-hand man. Napoleon Bonaparte had Alexis de Tocqueville. George W. Bush had Dick Cheney. And for five years, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had offensive co-ordinator Bruce Arians. Life was good. The Steelers enjoyed five straight winning seasons under Tomlin and Arians, going to the Super Bowl twice and winning it all in 2008. And they all lived happily ever after.

Well, almost. Arians left Pittsburgh for greener pastures (or was pushed out of town) before the 2012 season, and the Steelers haven’t been the same ever since. Is it possible that Arians was the real mover and shaker on the Pittsburgh sidelines? Given the juicy quotes emanating from the local airwaves, it’s something worth considering as the Steelers prepare to host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday Night Football (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC). Cincy remains a 2.5-point chalk on the Week 15 NFL lines as we go to press.

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Pirate Radio

The juiciness in question comes, as it often does, from QB Ben Roethlisberger. On Sunday, after the Steelers (5-8 SU, 6-7 ATS) lost 34-28 to the Miami Dolphins as 3-point home faves, reporters asked Roethlisberger what the offensive game plan was in the second half. “Coach Haley is over there,” Big Ben replied, referring to new offensive co-ordinator Todd Haley. “You could probably ask him. Their scheme, I don’t know, there was no particular reason.”

Roethlisberger went on his weekly radio talk show afterward to do some damage control, claiming there’s nothing negative to read in his comments and that he’s happy with the direction of the Pittsburgh offense. Of course, nobody believes him. His relationship with Haley has been under close scrutiny from Day One, and it’s only getting closer now that the Steelers are on the brink of playoff elimination for the second straight year.

They Call Me Bruce?

It’s an easy narrative to embrace. Haley was the offensive co-ordinator for the Arizona Cardinals when they lost to Pittsburgh at Super Bowl XLIII, and he parlayed that experience into the head coaching job with the Kansas City Chiefs – a job that went sour almost immediately. “My father got more creditentials [sic] than most of these pro coaches,” Chiefs RB Larry Johnson tweeted in 2009, before he was suspended for a week and ultimately released.

Haley got the axe in 2011, but just one year later, the Steelers hired him to replace Arians, who moved on to a similar position with the Indianapolis Colts under Chuck Pagano. You probably know the rest of the story. Arians ended up filling in for Pagano while he recovered from chemotherapy, the Colts went 11-5 SU and ATS, and Arians won NFL Coach of the Year honors. Now he’s the head coach of the Cardinals, who are in playoff contention at 8-5 SU and 9-4 ATS after winning just five games last year. The cream rises to the top.

Reality Bites

As with any narrative, the reality on the ground is more complicated. Haley’s tenure with the Chiefs was spoiled in part by injuries at key positions, and that’s the case once again in Pittsburgh. The offensive line is a mess, especially at center, where both Maurkice Pouncey and his fill-in, Fernando Velasco, are on injured reserve. Pittsburgh is also starting rookie RB Le’Veon Bell (3.4 yards per carry), who’s playing at replacement level and suffered a concussion in Week 13.

Between the injuries and the palace intrigue, the Steelers are in an awful spot with the Bengals (9-4 SU, 8-4-1 ATS) and their No. 4-ranked defense coming to town. Fetch my fading cap, Jeeves, if you would be so kind. The one with the dual cup-holders.

NFL Pick: Take the Bengals –3 (+105) at BetCRIS