NFL Picks: Bengals vs. Steelers Betting the Total

Jason Lake

Saturday, December 14, 2013 5:11 PM GMT

The weather looks great for an OVER, but there are more important football betting matters to consider when the Cincinnati Bengals visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.

Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013, up to December 13 inclusive:

35-30-2 ATS

1-1 ML (+0.71 units)

8-15-1 Totals

Betting on the NFL is always fun when the planets align and everything points at taking one side or the other. This is not one of those cases. On one hand, you’ve got the Cincinnati Bengals (OVER 7-5-1) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (UNDER 7-6), who generally end up mired in a low-scoring war of attrition whenever they meet. On the other hand, the NFL odds board has a rather low total of 41.5 for Sunday Night Football (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC), and the weather reports call for clear skies and cold temperatures, both of which benefit the OVER. What’s a degen to do?

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It’s a Slobberknocker

Let’s start with the reality on the ground. You pretty much know what you’re getting when these two teams meet: old-timey, Rust Belt football. Three yards and a cloud of dust – or a puddle of mud, weather gods willing. Each of the last four meetings between the Bengals and Steelers has gone UNDER the posted NFL total. The UNDER is also 12-9 since Marvin Lewis took over as coach of the Bengals in 2003.

We’re talking about some ridiculously low football totals, too. Only seven of those 21 games in the Lewis Era featured a total higher than 42, and none higher than 48. There’s a good reason for that: Only once during that span did Cincinnati and Pittsburgh combine for 50 points or more, and that was way back in 2005, when the Bengals offense was at its peak with QB Carson Palmer, RB Rudi Johnson and WR Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson.

I See Red

You don’t get Ochocino anymore – you get Carrot Top. QB Andy Dalton (87.7 passer rating) is running things for Cincinnati, and he’s doing a perfectly acceptable job of moving the chains, a little bit here, a little bit there. Dalton is No. 10 in the league in pass attempts and No. 10 in net yards per attempt; roughly half the time, he’s handing the ball off to RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3.4 yards per carry) or RB Giovani Bernard (4.7 yards), or taking off with it himself (2.6 yards).

Dalton has plenty of targets to throw at downfield, but it’s a mostly anonymous crew, led by third-year WR A.J. Green (78 catches, eight TDs) as the primary deep threat. Football Outsiders has the Bengals offense rated No. 17 overall, including No. 15 in the passing department and No. 19 in rushing. Again, perfectly acceptable, because it’s Cincinnati’s No. 4 ranked defense that’s carrying the load

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Big Ben, Parliament

Pittsburgh’s reputation as a run-and-defend team has taken a hit recently. There have been times when the Steelers have underutilized QB Ben Roethlisberger (94.1 passer rating), but Roethlisberger’s 500 pass attempts ranks sixth in the NFL this year, although he’s one spot behind Dalton when it comes to net yards per attempt. These quick slants and such are necessary because Pittsburgh’s offensive line is a wreck, and their tailback crew has been whittled down to rookie RB Le’Veon Bell (3.4 yards per carry).

Put all that in the math blender, and Pittsburgh comes out with the No. 12-ranked offense (No. 8 pass, No. 30 rush) in the league. Which would be perfectly acceptable if the Steelers defense weren’t ranked No. 20 overall. It’s just been one injury after another; RE Brett Keisel (foot) is the latest casualty, so if Cincinnati were ever going to have a good running game, Sunday would be the time.

As for the weather, somewhat light winds are expected; however, one it gets moving, the air does tend to swirl around Heinz Field, making life difficult for place-kickers. I’m not ecstatic about it, but I’m going to recommend the UNDER in this situation. The total is up from 40.5 points at the open with roughly 70 percent consensus on the OVER, so consider waiting until closer to kick-off to see if that total gets even higher – and to see how the weather holds up. Don’t want to get caught with you snow pants down again.

NFL Pick: Take UNDER 41.5 (+100) at Matchbook