NFL Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals Monday Night

Jason Lake

Monday, September 16, 2013 2:44 PM GMT

We’ve got two strong defenses and one self-destructing offense ready to collide on Monday Night Football. But are the NFL odds too low for betting on the total?

Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013, up to September 14 inclusive:

2-2-1 ATS

1-1 ML (+0.71 units)

0-2 Totals

Are you ready for some physical punishment? We’ve got a classic Rust Belt rivalry game brewing in the AFC North, as the Cincinnati Bengals prepare to host the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Defense is usually the main course when these two teams meet; their last three games have gone UNDER the NFL totals, and the last time they combined for 50 points or more was 2005. That’s 15 games in a row. So we’re betting the UNDER, right? Right?

Take a look at our NFL Picks: Steelers vs. Bengals Opening Odds Report

The Most Beautiful Half-Point in the World

The problem with that strategy: Everyone’s doing it. Our consensus reports at press time show 62 percent of the NFL betting public favoring the UNDER at a fairly low total of 41. And I do mean “betting public.” The early (and presumably sharp) action was on OVER 40.5.

That’s a pretty important half-point. Referring back to last week’s article on the distribution of NFL totals, 41 is the most common combined final score there is – about 4.3 percent of games end this way. According to the Wizard of Odds, the fair price for buying your way up from 40.5 to 41 would be 10.6 cents. That’s almost as valuable as moving from +7 to +7.5 on the NFL odds board(11.9 cents).

As it happens, 41 points is also well within the “middle ground” on the totals distribution curve, although it is at the low end of my arbitrary zone between 37 and 51 points inclusive. All other things being equal, I’d be looking at the OVER as a marginal play, and I’d be grabbing the OVER 40.5 that was still available at a number of sportsbooks on Sunday.

Take a look at our NFL Picks: Steelers vs. Bengals Betting the Spread

Dude, Where’s My Center?

Maybe one of these days, all things will actually be equal. These simply are not the Pittsburgh Steelers we’ve grown familiar with over the years. QB Ben Roethlisberger is still there, but his ability to play at a Pro-Bowl level has been severely comprised by the loss of his Pro Bowl center, Maurkice Pouncey. He was knocked out for the season with a torn right knee when teammate David DeCastro made contact during a double-team block against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1. Pittsburgh fell 16-9 at home (UNDER 42).

This is an awful development for an offense that was already projected to struggle this year. The Steelers were pegged by Football Outsiders to finish No. 19 overall in terms of offensive efficiency, matching their result from 2012. That projection may have been pessimistic; Pittsburgh’s offensive line suffered a series of injuries last year, forcing the Steelers to start seven different five-man fronts.

Pessimistic, or prescient? Things were even worse in 2011, as Pittsburgh employed nine different five-man fronts during the regular season. Roethlisberger compensated by throwing the ball more often, but the UNDER still went 10-6 for the Steelers in 2011, and 9-7 in 2012 as Big Ben and the Steelers missed the playoffs. And here we are with Pittsburgh’s offensive line already messed up yet again. So we’re betting the UNDER, right?

Feeling exotic? Take a look at our favorite NFL Betting Props for tonight's game.

Welcome to the Jungle

The problem with that strategy: Monday night’s game is being played at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The total was an even 4-4 on the road for the Steelers in 2011, and the OVER was 6-2 away from Heinz Field last year. That might have something to do with Pittsburgh locking down the Steel Curtain defense at home, or perhaps it’s those nasty swirling winds that can make kicking field goals so challenging at The Heinz.

As for the Bengals, the OVER was 6-2 at home in 2011 before flip-flopping to 2-6 in 2012. That includes their 24-17 loss (hey, that’s 41 points) to the Steelers last year, which went UNDER 47. If the total were 47 points again this year, I’d be all over the UNDER like white on rice. Not so much at 41.

NFL Pick: Take OVER 40.5 at BetPhoenix