Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)
I feel like I say this every week, but Andy Dalton is 1-11 in his career against future playoff teams in his first two years in the league, completing 250 of 445 (56.2%) for 2934 yards (6.6 YPA), 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, including two post-season losses. In his other 22 games, he’s 420 of 679 (61.9%) for 4518 yards (6.7 YPA), 35 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, going 18-4.
Last week, he lost in Chicago, a team that may or may not be a playoff team, but they’re certainly the type of team he normally loses to. Andy Dalton played better in a near win, completing 26 of 33 for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he also threw 2 back-breaking interceptions. This should continue to be something that works against the Bengals going forward. Its true Dalton has the best supporting cast of his career and one of the strongest supporting casts in the NFL, but he’s without his left tackle Andrew Whitworth right now and that’s a huge blow. He’s not expected to play this week.
It’s tough to know which category the Steelers will fall into this season, though they certainly looked like a non-playoff team in their opening game loss to the Titans by a score of 16-9. That final score doesn’t even fully illustrate how poorly they played offensively, as 2 of those points were on a safety, while their touchdown drive started with less than 4 minutes left in the game with the score pretty much out of reach.
However, they played well defensively, allowing just 16 points. I had the Steelers making the playoffs on the strength of their defense, which would be helped by the return of Troy Polamalu and, to a lesser extent, Ike Taylor from injury. They won’t make the playoffs if their offense doesn’t play better, but I don’t think it was as bad as it looked last week.
They lost starting center Maurkice Pouncey to a torn ACL early in the game. Pouncey is obviously out for the season, but at least the Steelers have a week to install a new center. It’s very tough to lose your center mid-game, especially a talented one like Pouncey, but you can survive without your center going forward, especially since the Steelers sign Fernando Velasco this week. Velasco was by far the best free agent center available, after being a final cut of the Titans, probably the most surprising final cut considering he was very solid as a starter in 2013. Credit the Steelers for picking him up. I don’t expect Ben Roethlisberger to be pressured on 40% of his drop backs again this week.
It’s also very possible that the Titans’ defense is better than we gave it credit for. They were dead last in the NFL in opponent’s scoring in 2012, but they ranked 8th in 2011 with largely the same personnel. It’s very possible they finish this season as a top-15 defense and that’s a conservative estimation. If that’s the case, the Steelers’ offensive performance doesn’t look so bad. At the same time, it’s possible that age (31) and all of his injuries have caught up to Ben Roethlisberger and/or that Roethlisberger is really being held back by Todd Haley’s system. Time will tell, but it’s definitely not time to rule out the Steelers as a playoff team.
If this line were -3, I wouldn’t take the Steelers solely off of Dalton’s past lack of success against playoff caliber opponents, but since we’re getting a full touchdown with the Steelers, I’m fairly confident that the Steelers are the right side here. Dalton is just 1-3 against the Steelers and Ravens in his career, with that one win coming by just a field goal against the Steelers last season. I think we’re seeing a field goal game either way with the Steelers playing a “don’t forget about us” game, regardless of outcome.
Cincinnati Bengals 16 Pittsburgh Steelers 13
Pick against spread: Pittsburgh +7