The Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) will host the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) in Saturday’s Wild Card double-header finale. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:15 EST at Paul Brown Stadium and will be televised nationally on CBS. Oddsmakers currently have the Steelers listed as a 2.5-point road favorite with the total set at 46.5 points.
Pittsburgh was on the outside looking in on the playoffs going into Week 17, but a 28-12 win at Cleveland coupled with the Jets losing on the road against the Bills, allowed the Steelers to take over the final Wild Card spot in the AFC. Cincinnati looked like they were primed to get a first round bye after a perfect 8-0 start, but the Bengals went just 4-4 over their final 8 games to land the No. 3 seed in the AFC.
Being division rivals, these two teams have already faced off twice this season. Cincinnati won 16-10 at Pittsburgh in Week 8, but fell 20-33 at home in Week 14. Overall, the Steelers have had the edge in the series of late, winning 4 of the last 5 meetings.
Early Lean on Bengals +2.5
I think we are seeing some great value here with the Bengals as a home dog in this matchup, which isn’t a huge surprise given the perception of these two teams going into the playoffs. While Pittsburgh was fortunate just to make the postseason, there’s already plenty of talk about how they are the most dangerous team outside of the Broncos and Patriots in the AFC. On the flip side of this, Cincinnati is a team that simply isn’t taken serious in the playoffs, largely due to the fact that they have made the playoffs in each of the last 4 seasons and lost their first game all 4 times. It also doesn’t help that Pittsburgh won the most recent meeting in the series, which just so happened to come at Cincinnati.
Before you start to look too much at the Bengals postseason history, you have to keep in mind that this is the best Bengals team they have had during this impressive run of 5 straight playoff appearances. The big concern with Cincinnati is the health of starting quarterback Andy Dalton, who has had to miss the last 3 games with an injured thumb, which he suffered on the Bengals’ opening opening drive against the Steelers.
If Williams isn’t able to play or is a non-factor due to his injured ankle, it’s going to allow the Bengals defense to shift all their attention to Antonio Brown and in turn the offense could struggle to produce at the level we have grown to expect. Keep in mind that in the two meetings against the Bengals this season, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown just 1 touchdown pass to 4 interceptions.
It’s still unclear if Dalton will be able to play or not, but he has been upgraded from out to questionable. He’s made it clear he intends to play and if he does that’s a huge bonus for the Bengals. However, that’s not to say Cincinnati can’t win this game with A.J. McCarron at quarterback. I’ve really been impressed with McCarron since he took over for Dalton and lets not forget he stepped in and completed 22 of 32 for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Steelers a few weeks ago.
As far as injuries are concerned, I’m a lot more worried about the health of Steelers’ running back DeAngelo Williams, who is questionable with an ankle injury suffered against the Browns. Without Williams, Pittsburgh would offer no threat of a running game and keep in mind that he’s also played a big role in the passing game. Fitzgerald Toussaint took over for Williams against Cleveland and managed just 24 yards on 12 carries.
If Williams isn’t able to play or is a non-factor due to his injured ankle, it’s going to allow the Bengals defense to shift all their attention to Antonio Brown and in turn the offense could struggle to produce at the level we have grown to expect. Keep in mind that in the two meetings against the Bengals this season, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown just 1 touchdown pass to 4 interceptions. With or without Dalton, I think Cincinnati has the easier time scoring, especially with this game being played at home.