Cincinnati Bengals (6-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
The Steelers get a huge boost this week, getting Ben Roethlisberger back from injury, and it comes at a perfect time, with the undefeated Bengals coming to town. The Steelers moved the chains at an 81.25% rate in the first 2 games of the season, before Roethlisberger went down midway through week 3, and have moved the chains at a 65.19% rate in 5 games since. Both Michael Vick and Landry Jones were major downgrades from Roethlisberger, who was Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked quarterback before going down.
Roethlisberger’s supporting cast is also even better than it was in the first 2 weeks of the season. Running back Le’Veon Bell didn’t return from his suspension until week 3 (the game when Roethlisberger went down), while wide receiver Martavis Bryant didn’t return until week 6. Bell is arguably the best running back in the NFL, while Martavis Bryant is a talented 2nd year receiver who has played really well in the past 2 weeks. They’re still not at completely full strength, like they were for almost all of last season (when they ranked 3rd in rate of moving the chains), as center Maurkice Pouncey is still out, but this is still one of the most talented offenses in the league. As long as Roethlisberger is close to as good as he was before getting hurt, the Steelers’ offense will be tough to stop this week.
The Bengals could easily be up to the challenge, as they’re one of the best teams in the league, ranking 2nd in rate of moving the chains differential. Unlike the Steelers, they’ve had next to no injuries this season. That’s been huge for them, after all the injuries they had last season. They ranked 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential in 2013, the last time they were healthy, and now they’re back up there, only with a better record. They also get linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from injury for this one. It’s tough to know how much he’ll be able to contribute in his first game back from microfracture surgery, but he was one of the best linebackers in the league before he got hurt, so his return is notable.
The Bengals are in a tough spot though, as they have to turn around and play Cleveland on a short week next week. Favorites are 41-66 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. Cleveland isn’t that tough of an opponent, but neither is the Steelers’ upcoming opponent, the Oakland Raiders, and they don’t have to play them on a short week. I’m also not sure the Bengals really deserve to be favored here, even if only by a point.
They’re obviously a very good team, but so are the Steelers now that Roethlisberger is healthy. Not only do they now have an explosive offense again, like they did last season, their defense is much improved. They ranked 25th in rate of moving the chains differential in 2014, but have ranked 13th thus far this season, picking up the slack for the offense, though having breakout 2nd year defensive end Stephon Tuitt out for this one hurts. Still, they have a very good chance to hand the Bengals their first loss of the season. I just wouldn’t bet on it.
Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Cincinnati Bengals 20 Upset Pick +100
Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +1