Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
Time: 3:25 PM (EST)
Spread: PIT -7
Odds c/o Bovada
The Pittsburgh Steelers remain undefeated at 8-0 after last defeating the Dallas Cowboys on the road. This week, it returns to Pittsburgh to host the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers enter as 7-point favorites in the game, with the over-under set at 46.5 points. The game will air at 3:25 (EST) on FOX networks.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for this week as though Ben Roethlisberger will be available to play. Naturally, this puts the rest of the offense back in its comfort zone, but Big Ben’s contraction of the COVID virus was enough to hold him out of practice this week. Even so, the vaunted veteran is amidst another stellar season, having run up nearly 2,000 yards on a 68 percent passing clip. He has 18 touchdown passes and just four picks, while he has also limited his sacks to just 1.25 per game. His passer rating of 101.8 says enough, and the Steelers remain a team whose offense relies very heavily on one versatile back, in James Conner.
Conner leads the team in rushing yards with 520, and additionally, he ranks No. 6 in receiving yards with 123 on 20 receptions this season. Benny Snell Jr. is also adapting well to the NFL as the No. 2 back for the Steelers. The workhorse from Kentucky has rushed 47 times for 168 yards and has two touchdowns to his credit, matching Chase Claypool for No. 2 in rushing touchdowns this season. Claypool has been phenomenal in his featured role as a receiver, with his 31 catches for a team-best 444 yards. He also leads the team in receiving touchdowns (five).
The Steelers are something of a study in execution too. Despite ranking No. 22 in passing yardage and No. 19 in rushing, the team manages to score 29.4 points per game, ranking fifth in the NFL. Add to that the staunch defense it employs year in and year out, and the Steelers have tallied up a differential of +9.3 points. Pittsburgh limits opponents to just 20.1 points per game, which ranks No. 5 in the league.
Even so, Pittsburgh has only eclipsed the 30 point mark twice in eight games, despite winning all of those affairs. The onus is on the Bengals to keep Pitt out of scoring range, and this could easily swing in favor of the Bengals, despite it entering as full touchdown dogs.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a lot of promise for a team that is just 2-5-1 on the season. Despite being in last place of the AFC North, there have been some notable improvements that should crystalize further as the year unfolds. Last week’s impressive 31-20 victory over the division-leading Tennessee Titans exhibited just that.
Joe Burrow has been good, but not without his growing pains as an inexperienced starter at the focal point of his offense. Burrow has already thrown for over 2,200 yards and has a 67 percent passing clip to boot. 300.3 yards per game come from his cannon, and the only faults to be found with the former LSU quarterback are his five interceptions…and 28 (!) sacks. The protection of the OL has not been adequate and Burrow is hardly the only one affected. Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard both average just 3.6 yards-per-carry, and no one has a better average than Burrow’s 3.7 per.
Tyler Boyd has become one heck of a wide receiver, though, in his own right. Boyd has caught 54 of 68 targeted passes for 584 yards and three touchdowns. Tee Higgins matches his three touchdowns but has fewer catches (33) and far fewer yards (488). Overall, the talent seems all in place for the Bengals to be far better than its record indicates. However, to reach that potential it will require better blocking so Burrow has time to throw, or the backfield is provided the holes to better its 3.7 yard-per-carry average as a team. Cincinnati is a threat to the Steelers, but it would be wise to keep an eye on Big Ben’s status as the game approaches because this line could be due to shifting if he is effectively ruled out for the Steelers.