Bengals host rival Steelers in playoffs Saturday
By Zach Cohen
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-6) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (12-4)
Kickoff: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
‘AFC Wild Card Playoffs’
Line: Pittsburgh -2.5, Total: 45.5
Saturday’s second AFC playoff game will feature the Bengals hosting the division rival Steelers.
Pittsburgh needed a win over Cleveland plus a Jets loss to the Bills in Week 17 or the team was not going to make the playoffs, and the Steelers got just that. The team went into FirstEnergy Stadium and defeated the Browns 28-12 as 12.5-point favorites and the Jets lost 22-17 in Buffalo. The Steelers now face a Cincinnati team that they are 4-2 both SU and ATS against over the past three seasons. Each team won-and-covered when playing in the other’s stadium this season, but the Steelers are an impressive 20-5 SU and 19-6 ATS when playing in Cincinnati since 1992. This is, however, a different Bengals team. Cincinnati was extremely impressive throughout the regular season and comes into this one after having gone 4-2 both SU and ATS over the final six weeks of the season. Some trends to keep an eye on are that the Bengals are just 3-12 ATS in January games since 1992. They are also, however, an impressive 8-1 ATS after covering the spread in two of their previous three games this season. RB DeAngelo Williams (Ankle) is questionable for the Steelers coming into this one. For the Bengals, QB Andy Dalton (Thumb) got his cast removed this week but A.J. McCarron is being prepped as the starter.
The Steelers have one of the most explosive offenses in football, scoring 26.4 PPG (4th in NFL) thanks to 287.7 YPG passing (3rd in NFL) and 107.8 YPG rushing (16th in NFL). This team can get it done in any way necessary offensively, but the injury to DeAngelo Williams complicates things. If he can play, he must run the ball effectively. It would really hurt Pittsburgh if he is forced to sit out or just doesn’t perform the way he is capable of. With the uncertainty in the running game, Ben Roethlisberger is going to have a lot more on his plate. As usual, the Steelers quarterback piled up numbers with 3,938 yards, 21 touchdowns and 16 picks in just 12 games this season. He did, however, struggled against Cincinnati on the year. In two meetings with the team, Roethlisberger threw for just one touchdown and was picked off four times. He will need to take care of the ball in this one. Antonio Brown will need to help his quarterback by getting open in this game. He had just 13 catches for 144 yards and no touchdowns in two meetings with the Bengals this season and that is very unlike him, as he had 1,834 yards with 10 touchdowns on the season. Defensively, the Steelers will need to put pressure on whoever is playing quarterback for the Bengals. Dalton has struggled in the playoffs and will be nervous coming into this one and the same will be the case for McCarron, who has never started a playoff game.
The Bengals had a very good season, but they will unfortunately be dealing with a bad situation at quarterback in this game. Andy Dalton, who threw for 3,250 yards with 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 13 games this year, is just getting over a fractured hand and is unlikely to play in this one. That leaves AJ McCarron as the starter and he will certainly be nervous in his first postseason start. McCarron has already faced the Steelers in Cincinnati this season and Pittsburgh won that game 33-20. McCarron was 22-for-32 with 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in that one. He will need to be more careful with the ball, as he can’t be handing it over to Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense on Saturday. If the Bengals are going to win this game then the team is going to really need to play a good game defensively. With a young quarterback starting, this game will need to be won in grind-it-out fashion. This should not be a problem for a Cincinnati defense that allowed just 17.4 PPG (2nd in NFL) this season. The team also allowed just 18 passing touchdowns (2nd in NFL), which really bodes well considering Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will be in town on Saturday.