Last week’s loss against the Ravens may have been the final blow to the Steelers’ chances of winning the AFC North, but they will get a chance to climb back in the race if they can pull of a win against a Cincinnati team that despite winning five straight, have only one win over a team currently holding a winning record.
That win was a 23-20 home victory over the Buffalo Bills back on Oct. 2. However, the Bengals have been one of the biggest surprise teams in the first half of the NFL season after having found their mojo following a 1-2 record to start the season.
Fueled by a suffocating defense and rookie quarterback Andy Dalton’s 12 TD passes –the most through eight games for any rookie quarterback since the 1970 merger– the Bengals find themselves tied for first place in the division with the Ravens.
Dalton tossed a career-high three touchdown passes last week in a 24-17 victory over Tennessee, while the defense stymied the Titans offense, holding them under 100 yards in the second half.
The victory boosted the Bengals to five wins in a row for the first time since 1988.
Nevertheless, Cincinnati will need to keep in mind that the Steelers have won eight of their last nine games at Cincinnati, and will no doubt be fired up after last week’s loss to division rival Baltimore that ended the Steelers’ four-game winning streak.
It was a heart wrenching loss for the Steelers, whose defense folded like an over-caffeinated origami, allowing the Ravens to cap a 13-play, 92-yard drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to rookie Torrey Smith with eight seconds to play.
The win allowed the Ravens to complete the series sweep, while knocking Pittsburgh back into third place in the division.
If the loss wasn’t humiliating enough, Steelers’ safety Ryan Clark was handed a $40,000 fine for a hit on Ravens wide receiver Ed Dickson, making Pittsburgh the most fined defensive unit in the league.
Pittsburgh’s one bright spot however, this season, has been quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who seems to have found the magic he had early on in his career, throwing for 330 or more yards in each of the past three games. He is on track to break his own franchise record for yards in a season.
In the meantime, Rashard Mendenhall just doesn’t look the same in the running game, and is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry as is Isaac Redman.
While the Steelers are known for defense, their pass coverage isn’t getting it done. That could play right into the Bengals’ paws come Sunday.
Cincinnati is 10-1 against the spread in their last 11 games overall, while the Steelers are 8-1-1 against the spread in their last 10 games in Cincinnati.
Matt’s Prediction: Bengals 24, Steelers 17