For the first time all season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to snap out of a losing streak. Once 11-0, they’ve dropped two straight games now after going down to Buffalo last Sunday.
This week, coach Mike Tomlin and crew can get back into the win column with a division victory on the road. The Steelers travel to Cincinnati to play the Bengals next Monday night.
West Virginia sportsbooks like their chances of getting their 12th win on the year. They show the Steelers laying -12.5 points in the spread.
With such a big line, Pittsburgh’s moneyline is difficult to bet by itself. It’s listed around -770, while Cincinnati has odds of +500 to win.
Monday’s total is lower by about a touchdown compared to last week. Sportsbooks have it set at 40.5 points.
Steelers vs. Bengals Preview
Despite still having a tremendous record, the Steelers are clearly struggling of late. Back-to-back losses to Washington and Buffalo have dropped them from the top spot in the AFC.
The division-rival Bengals would typically get the Steelers’ full attention on a normal week, so this one should be even more intense.
Some positive news for Pittsburgh and its supporters is the Bengals have proven they’re one of the worst teams in the NFL again. Since the Steelers defeated them in mid-November, the Bengals haven’t won a game.
They’ve now lost five straight and haven’t been even competitive in their last two.
Cincinnati went down on the road at Miami by 12, then followed that up with a 23-point loss against Dallas.
Of course, losing your top quarterback and rookie phenom in Joe Burrow didn’t help. Brandon Allen is taking the majority of the snaps now under center.
The lack of a run game has hindered the Bengals, as well. They also lost their star running back Joe Mixon to injury a few weeks ago.
Still, they feature one of the best receiving corps in the entire league. The trio of A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and rookie Tee Higgins is making noise this season.
They combined for 16 receptions a week ago, for over 150 yards and the team’s only touchdown.
Realistically, if the Steelers play the way they are capable, this shouldn’t be a very close game.
Their defense should be able to make plenty of plays around the line of scrimmage and harass Cincinnati’s backfield throughout the night. The Bengals are averaging just 10 points per game during their current losing streak.
The same should hold true for the Steelers’ offense, too.
After scoring at least 24 points in each of their first 10 games, they have yet to do so in their last three weeks.
The offense may try to implement more of its running game. Pittsburgh was held to just 47 rushing yards against Buffalo, and 21 in Week 13.
AFC Playoff Picture
This recent lull could cost the Steelers more in 2020 compared to in season’s past. This year, only the top overall seed in each conference is awarded a bye week.
The No. 2 seed must now play a first-round game to accommodate for the added seventh playoff team.
With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, it is officially crunch time in Pittsburgh.
Although it’s not the end of the world if the Steelers don’t get the top seed, it would certainly help. Since 1990, only 12 teams that didn’t receive a first-round bye made the Super Bowl, compared to the 48 times a top seed has.
Obviously this statistic could drastically change going forward thanks to these new rules. However, giving yourself an extra week to rest and prepare always seems like an added benefit in such a physical sport.
The problem for the Steelers is the team they are now trying to catch is the Kansas City Chiefs. The reigning champions are 12-1 and don’t appear to be letting off the gas anytime soon.
They’ve won eight consecutive and face a fairly easy schedule after this weekend. The Steelers are hoping the New Orleans Saints can bounce back at home and upset the Chiefs for their second loss.
Besides looking up at Kansas City for the top spot, Pittsburgh must ensure Buffalo doesn’t catch it from behind. The Bills are just one game back following their victory a week ago.
While home-field advantage is going to impact games differently this postseason, you can bet that teams would rather play at home. Regardless of how many fans are in attendance, NFL franchises prefer not to travel and to play in weather conditions they’re familiar with.
Even if Pittsburgh can’t regain the top seed, it’s vital it finishes strong.
Pittsburgh must take advantage of its favorable matchup this weekend because the schedule becomes much more difficult after that.
In Week 16, the Steelers will battle the playoff-bound Colts on a short week. Indianapolis is 9-4 so far and is looking to overtake the Titans in the AFC South.
The Steelers then close the season out with a contest against the impressive Cleveland Browns. They also feature a 9-4 record following a narrow defeat to the Ravens.
Both of these games will provide a solid understanding of exactly where the Steelers are to finish out the year.
In order for them to make a deep playoff run, they must get things sorted out in the last few games. The way the Steelers are currently playing will land them at home watching the Divisional round.
As mentioned, the effectiveness of the running game will play a large role. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is no longer a mobile option, so he needs opposing defenses to at least respect the running attack.
Running back James Conner was unproductive in his first game back, but the Steelers need him going forward. He’s by far their best back and is the only one currently averaging more than four yards per carry.
Pittsburgh would be wise to get him going in these last few weeks so that the offense can once again perform at a high level.