The Cincinnati Bengals are undefeated, but Big Ben Roethlisberger's return could make the Pittsburgh Steelers the right football pick for Sunday's AFC North showdown.
Jason's 2015 record as of Oct. 27: 22-16-1 ATS; 0-1 ML (-1.00 units); 18-26 Total
It's time to take the training wheels off the Pittsburgh Steelers. They've held up reasonably well over the past four games while QB Ben Roethlisberger has recovered from a sprained knee; Michael Vick and Landry Jones did just enough to earn a 2-2 split at 2-1-1 ATS, although the real star for Pittsburgh was the Steel Curtain defense. All four games went UNDER the posted total – even their Week 4 overtime game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Now Roethlisberger has been deemed ready for combat. His first assignment: Sunday's AFC North matchup (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS) with the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals. Tough gig. Pittsburgh opened as a 1.5-point home dog on our NFL odds board, and our early consensus reports show 58-percent support for the Bengals. Speaking of reports, the weather forecast calls for a 35-percent chance of rain at kick-off. Bring a parka.
Big Ben Baby
We thought Vick might do a reasonable job in relief of Big Ben, and he did have some moments, but no. According to Football Outsiders, Vick was one of the very worst quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of passing efficiency, as per their DVOA metric. Jones ended up playing at about league-average, which was a pleasant surprise.
Neither man can hold a candle to Roethlisberger. He was arguably the best quarterback in the NFL last season, and he was lighting it up again this year before going down in Week 3. Assuming he's healthy enough, the Steelers (4-3 SU, 5-1-1 ATS) can look forward to a strong playoff run; they already have one of the best defenses in the league, ranking second overall to the New York Jets on the Simple Rating System at Pro-Football Reference.
Look at Them Kick
Then you have the Bengals (6-0 SU, 5-0-1 ATS), who are third in total SRS behind the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals. Strong quarterback? Andy Dalton leads the league in passing DVOA and QBR. Ground game? Giovani Bernard is third in rushing DVOA. Defense? Not so elite – the Bengals are tied for No. 10 in DSRS through Week 7. Pretty impressive overall, though.
We haven't even mentioned special teams yet. For some reason, Football Outsiders hasn't updated its numbers since Week 5, but the Bengals ranked No. 7 overall, while the Steelers were back at No. 16. Neither team has done particularly well in the kicking department; Pittsburgh is famously on its fourth PK this season. Chris Boswell has stepped up and made all seven of his attempts, plus all five of his extra points, so maybe the Steelers have this covered. Mike Nugent (7-for-9) has missed a couple of relatively easy figgies, but it hasn't come back to bite the Bengals yet. We'll take a closer look later this week when we make our NFL picks against the spread.