Match-up: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Spread: Steelers (-2.5)
Location: Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati, OH
When: Saturday, January 9th, 8:15 PM
Pittsburgh Steelers Season Overview
The Steelers had an interesting season and had to overcome several injuries to key players along with winning their final game of their regular season and getting some help in order to sneak their way into the playoffs. First, Ben Roethlisberger went down in the third week of the season in St. Louis with an MCL sprain in his knee, sidelining him for five weeks. The Steelers went 2-3 in that span. Then, he came back in week 8 in a home game against the Bengals and threw 3 interceptions in a 16-10 loss. In that same game, All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell went down in which winded up being a torn MCL in his knee, and Bell was done for the season. Just one week later, Roethlisberger went down yet again by spraining his foot which sidelined him for the following week. The Steelers then were winners of 5 of their remaining 7 games but after surprisingly losing to a injury-depleted Ravens team in week 16, the Steelers were on the outside looking in for a playoff berth. In the final week of the regular season, they needed to win at Cleveland and the Jets needed to lose at Buffalo in order for them to make the playoffs. It didn’t sound like too high of an asking price, but the fact the Steelers controlled their own destiny before losing to Baltimore was frustrating. So on the final week of the regular season, the Steelers got their wish, winning at Cleveland while the Bills upset the Jets in Buffalo. The Steelers are playoff bound once again. A playoff match-up with the rival Bengals will be a fun one to watch, as the teams both split their season series with each team winning on the road.
Two Underrated Steelers to Watch
Heath Miller (TE): I understand Miller isn’t necessarily a sleeper at this point in his career, as he’s been a security blanket for Ben Roethlisberger for a decade. But Miller is still a guy that goes unnoticed in the Pittsburgh offense with opposing defenses keying on explosive playmakers Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton on the outside, along with locking in on DeAngelo Williams on the ground. The veteran tight end quietly does everything for the Steelers, as he’s a force in the run game with his blocking and has excellent hands as a steady pass catching tight end. His numbers in 2015 don’t wow anyone (60 receptions, 535 yards, 2 touchdowns) but when the games matter the most, Roethlisberger usually tends to find Miller early and often. In this wild card matchup against a really good defense, look for the Bengals to focus on the likes of Brown and Bryant and less attention to Miller. As a result, I look for Heath to have a very good game in this showdown.
Stephon Tuitt (DT): Similar to the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side gets a lot of attention due to Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons putting pressure on the quarterback. Not to take anything away from those two studs, but much of their success this year was due to the emergence of the second-year defensive tackle out of Notre Dame, Stephon Tuitt. Tuitt has been a monster on the interior of the Steelers defensive line all season long, and he finished the season with 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss in Cleveland. In his last game against the Bengals, Tuitt had his first career interception and was constantly getting in the backfield making plays from behind the line of scrimmage. I expect Tuitt to yet again be a force on the trenches in this game.
How the Steelers Can Win
Using their 3rd ranked total offense to the best of their ability. The Steelers averaged over 26 points per game this season, as only New Orleans and Arizona scored more. However, the Steelers have struggled on offense over the last few games, and Roethlisberger has thrown 7 interceptions in his last four games. He will have to clean that up against a stingy Bengals defense. However, if he does, I expect the Steelers to score enough points and find a way to win another game in Paul Brown Stadium and advance to the Divisional round of the playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals Overview
Through the first half of the season, the Bengals were the best team in football. All that chatter was surrounding the play of quarterback Andy Dalton, who had 25 touchdown passes to just 7 interceptions in 13 games. But then, the Bengals who seemingly had everything going their way and were looking forward to seeing how Dalton would respond in the postseason, were snake bitten when they lost Dalton to a broken thumb in week 14 against the Steelers when Dalton tried to make a tackle on the return of his interception. It was an unfortunate blow to this Bengals team who was rolling with Dalton in the lineup, and since then they’ve lost two of their final three regular season games to drop to the 3rd seed in the AFC. It doesn’t look like Dalton will be ready to play in this game, so A.J. Mccarran will make his third career start, and his first in the postseason. He’s been in numerous big games before during his national championship seasons in college at Alabama, but none compare to the magnitude of this AFC Wild Card game. It will be interesting to see how McCarron will respond to all of the hype and build up of this game. The Bengals defense, however, has been awesome all year long, as they’ve allowed the 2nd fewest points per game at just over 17. The Bengals are led by star linebacker Vontaze Burfict and a few of the best interior lineman in the game in Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.
Two Underrated Bengals to Watch
Marvin Jones (WR): Jones is under appreciated in the Bengals offense for all the credit that is attributed to the run game, AJ Green, and emerging tight end Tyler Eifert. All Jones did was finish second on the team behind Green in catches and yards, and has been a consistent force over the last two seasons. With his electric speed and crazy glue hands, Jones will be the beneficiary of A.J. Green double teams and should be able to receive nice one-on-one matchup with a vulnerable Steelers secondary.
Vincent Rey (LB): With all of the recognition that Vontaze Burfict gets, from a numbers standpoint, Rey was the best linebacker for the Bengals this season. I understand Burfict was banged up at times during the regular season, and without Rey, this Bengals defense wouldn’t be where they are. This guy is excellent in both coverage and against the run, and he will have a major impact on this game and will be one of the reasons if the Bengals can slow down the Steelers’ potent offense.
How the Bengals Can Win
Their defense needs to bring their “A” Game. If they do, they will certainly have a chance to win the game. The Steelers have playmakers at every position on offense, but they’ve struggled to find the end zone the last two weeks. If the Bengals’ bend-but-don’t-break defense can work to their advantage, much like it has all year, they will be right in this game until the last possession.
Final Score Prediction: Steelers Win 24-21.
Photo Credits: http://hdwallpapersfit.com/ben-roethlisberger-hd-wallpapers.html
Christian Reilly: @CReillyTV