Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (pk, 48 o/u)
It looked like the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3, 2-1 Home) might be down for the count when QB Ben Roethlisberger suffered a painful-looking knee injury in Week 3. But a combination of Michael Vick and Landry Jones have led the team to a 2-2 record while Big Ben’s been healing, keeping the Steelers over .500 and well-positioned to make a run at the playoffs. Though not yet 100-percent, Roethlisberger should return to action for this weekend’s pivotal clash with the unbeaten and division-leading Cincinnati Bengals (6-0, 3-0 Away) at Heinz Field (1:00 PM Eastern).
It’s a little misleading to say that Vick and Jones “led” the Steelers anywhere. The Pittsburgh passing game, which is arguably the most potent in the league when Roethlisberger is healthy, has been impotent in his absence. (Case-in-point: Antonio Brown, arguably the best WR in the league, hasn’t found the end zone since Week 2.) But a combination of strong defensive play and super-human efforts from Le’Veon Bell in the ground game have kept Pittsburgh competitive.
Brown, along with every Steeler fan the world over, is excited at the prospect of his QB returning to the fold.
“He didn’t miss a beat,” Brown said to the Post-Gazette. “He’s a special quarterback, an elite guy. I was excited to see him in the huddle today. Anytime you have a guy of that caliber you know what kind of opportunity it will present. You know what it does for a team. It revitalizes, rejuvenates and gets everyone excited.”
Expecting the pivot to return in top form might be a little much to ask, though. Roethlisberger has been sidelined numerous times throughout his 12-year career and has tended to need a game or two to get his bearings, putting up a 2-4 record in his first-games-back, while completing just 59.5-percent of his passes, averaging only 192.0 passing yards per game, and tossing more INTs (seven) than TDs (six).
The Steelers will need him to be better than that if they’re going to take down the blistering Bengals, who have the added benefit of coming off a Week 7 bye. Cincy, arguably the deepest team in the league, roster-wise, is getting the job done on both sides of the ball. The offense is putting up over 30 points per game (third in the league) while the D is surrendering just over 20 (11th in the league), even though it’s been without starting middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict the entire year.
The biggest change this year versus previous seasons has been the consistency of QB Andy Dalton. The TCU product had put up good stretches before, but always sprinkled in some truly awful performances. Dalton has managed to eschew the bad this year, though, leading the NFL with a 116.3 passer rating and just two picks (versus 14 TDs) through six games.
Unfortunately for Cincy, the bad Dalton often rears his head against the Steelers. The fourth-year QB is just 2-6, career, against Pittsburgh with seven INTs.
Not only are the Bengals undefeated straight-up on the year, they’re also 5-0-1 ATS and have looked just as good on the road as at home. But the Steelers are very tough to beat at home, especially when healthy. Given the question marks about Roethlisberger’s capacity – and how he’ll respond coming back from a four-game absence – it might be wise to avoid the spread in this one. Instead, roll with the over (48), as the Bengals have hit the over in their last four and the Pittsburgh offense certainly won’t be worse with Roethlisberger under center.
Pick: OVER 48.
(Photo credit: SteelCityHobbies (flickr) “MRR_0058″ [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)
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