Forget the rivalry aspect. This has been one of the most competitive and thrilling series to watch in the NFL on a regular basis. Since 2009, eight of these matchups have been decided by one score, and 12 of them have been decided by less than 14 points.
Almost every matchup has come down to the fourth quarter with no team ever going on a winning streak of more than three games since 2011. Pittsburgh has had a slight edge in recent matchups, winning five of the last six meetings, including last year's Wild Card matchup.
But don't let that trend fool you. All six of those games have come down to the fourth quarter with Cincinnati leading or driving for the go-ahead score in four of them. There is no reason to expect this week's clash not to be another thriller that comes down to the final frame.
Odds and Betting Trends
The Steelers opened as a 4-point favorite way back in April, and the line has only dropped marginally to 3.5 points. The over/under of this game suggests a mini-shootout at 48.5 points. Here are some of the recent betting trends for both teams, courtesy of Odds Shark.
- Cincinnati is 12-3-3 against the spread in its last 18 games
- Cincinnati is 2-2-2 against the spread in its last six games
- Cincinnati is 13-5 straight up in its last 18 games
- The total has gone under in 8 of Cincinnati's last 12 games
- Pittsburgh is 2-1-3 against the spread in its last six games
- Pittsburgh is 6-2 straight up in its last eight games
- The total has gone under in 4 of Pittsburgh's last five games
- Pittsburgh is 5-1 straight up in its last six games at home
- Pittsburgh is 14-5-1 against the spread in its last 20 games when playing Cincinnati
- Pittsburgh is 5-1 straight up in its last six games when playing Cincinnati
- The total has gone under in 7 of Pittsburgh's last 10 games when playing Cincinnati
Expert Picks, Analysis, and Predictions
The Steelers offense is viewed by many as the best unit that either of these teams will feature, and for good reason. Pittsburgh finished 2015 ranked third in total offense, and they begin 2016 with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, something the Steelers didn’t have for various stretches in 2015.
In Week 1 at Washington, the Steelers scored 38 points, more than any AFC team in Week 1. All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. DeAngelo Williams, starting in place of the suspended Le’Veon Bell, totaled 143 rushing yards and two scores on 26 carries.
Stopping that offensive trio will be key to the Bengals winning this week, but Cincinnati allowed 22 points in a Week 1 win over the Jets. That's an important stat, as the Bengals allowed more than 21 points in just four games last season (they went 2-2 in those games). One of those was a 33-20 home loss to the Steelers, and in 2014, the Bengals were swept by Pittsburgh, who scored 41 and 27 points in those two matchups.
At Pro Football Focus, Sam Monson singles out Big Ben and Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah as players to watch for in this matchup.
Bengals TE C.J. Uzomah averaged a position-high 2.57 yards per route run in Week 1.
The 2015 fifth-round pick has already played more offensive snaps in 2016 (52) than he did all of last season (51). Even without Tyler Eifert, who will miss the upcoming game, the Bengals kept the tight end as a big part of the offense. The Steelers surrendered 917 passing yards to opposing TEs in 2015, ninth-most in the NFL, meaning Uzoma could again put up decent numbers for the Bengals in Week 2.
Ben Roethlisberger was a perfect four-for-four on deep passes (traveling 20+ yards in air) in Week 1, recording 118 yards and two touchdowns on such throws.
While we certainly don’t expect Big Ben to stay perfect when throwing deep, he did record the best adjusted completion percentage on deep targets in 2015, at 50.7. While the deep passing game has been—and continues to be, judging by Week 1—a big asset for the Steelers’ offense, the Bengals have been able to slow it down in the past. In three games against Cincinnati last season, Roethlisberger completed just three deep passes and threw two interceptions. If the Steelers maintain their deep-passing game success against the Bengals, who have been able to limit it, they’ll likely win the major AFC North battle.
Another player to watch for involves Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who Monson is also watching for against a bad Steelers secondary.
A.J. Green dominated Jets CB Darrelle Revis in Week 1, but Revis was tasked with following him all over the field, something the Steelers won’t do in Week 2.
Pittsburgh made a major upgrade in the secondary this offseason simply by moving Antwon Blake out of the starting lineup. Ross Cockrell, the man in his spot now, allowed four catches on six targets against Washington, but they went for only 34 yards, and the longest catch he surrendered was for 12 yards. Rookie Sean Davis looks to be the weakest link of the trio, giving up a catch on 83.3 percent of his targets versus the Redskins, surrendering a passer rating of 105.6 on throws into his coverage. If the Bengals see that, too, Green might get more time in the slot this week, having lined up inside on 20 of his 56 snaps against the Jets.
Green has averaged 93.7 yards per game in his career against the Steelers while recording six touchdowns in those 10 career games. However, his team has gone 3-7 in those matchups, so Green going off does not always spell victory.
The Bengals are actually 2-2 vs Pittsburgh when Green does not catch a touchdown, but are 2-1 when Green catches 10-plus passes vs the Steelers. The Bengals are also 3-2 vs Pittsburgh when Green is targetted 14-plus times, but are 0-5 when Green is targetted 13 or fewer times.
So to recap, Green needs at least 14 targets and 10 catches for the Bengals to have a good chance of winning in Week 2. The good news is Pittsburgh ranks 30th in passing defense after Week 1, so Green should have little trouble gashing their secondary for big plays.
As for how the experts are calling this game, CBS Sports Pete Prisco is picking the Bengals to cover the 3.5-point spread in one of his five Week 2 best bets.
2. Bengals plus 3.5: The Steelers looked good in beating Washington on the road Monday night. And the Bengals are playing consecutive road games. But this is a short trip and Cincinnati was impressive on offense winning at the Jets last week. That will play out here. I am bucking a trend since Andy Dalton is 3-7 against the Steelers. I think there will be a lot of points.
NFL.com's Elliot Harrison has Pittsburgh narrowly covering the spread while failing to hit that 21-point mark mentioned earlier.
These Bengals- Steelers matchups never seem to be as high-scoring as you think they're gonna be. Kind of like those nights out with your fraternity brothers. The NFL's best rivalry today features the two biggest threats at wide receiver in the league -- or, at least, the AFC. (See: Week 1.) Yet, if Cincy is going to win, they must slow DeAngelo Williams' roll. The Bengals allowed the Jets to gain 152 yards on 30 carries last weekend. One player who could have an unexpected impact: Bengals rookie Tyler Boyd. Pittsburgh will roll a safety over the top of A.J. Green. If Boyd can beat Steelers coordinator Keith Butler's defense out of the slot ... long day for Pittsburgh. The Jets sacked Andy Dalton seven times last weekend and still lost.
Final Score: Steelers 20, Bengals 16
Here is a roundup of all the national media is picking this matchup:
- Experts over at CBS Sports favor the Steelers overall, with six of the eight going with Pittsburgh to win.
- Eight of the nine ESPN experts who had submitted their picks went with the Steelers to win at home.
- At SB Nation, seven of their experts are picking the Steelers, including the Odds Shark computer.
- According to NFL Pick Watch, the Steelers are an overwhelming favorite among experts with 85 percent of picks going toward Pittsburgh as of Friday afternoon at 6:00 p.m. ET.
Seeing Pittsburgh favored is no surprise. Since 2000 Pittsburgh has dominated the rivalry with a 25-9 mark and is 10-3 vs Cincinnati since 2010 (including playoffs). That said, Andy Dalton-led Bengal teams have won twice in Pittsburgh with two losses by just 10 points, so this game should, at worst, come down to the final quarter.