Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)
I have bet against the Steelers frequently this season, as I have considered them overrated throughout. They went 12-4 a year ago, but they were not as good as their record, winning a lot of close games against an easy schedule. They were also carried by a dominant defense, which seemed unlikely to be able to keep up that level of play because of off-season losses and the overall relatively non-predictive nature of defensive performance, when compared to offensive performance. This season, the Steelers have started 5-4-1, but they are once again worse than their record.
While all of the Steelers’ wins have come by one score, three of their four losses were by multiple scores, with the only exception being a game against the Chargers last week in which the Steelers lost despite winning the turnover battle and blocking a punt, which led to the Steelers cutting into what was a 14-point 4th quarter lead. Overall, the Chargers won the first down rate by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play, both substantial amounts.
The Steelers’ offense has continued to struggle, ranking 26th in schedule adjusted efficiency, while their defense has fallen off significantly, ranking 23rd in schedule adjusted efficiency, as injuries have hit them harder than expected. Only their 15th ranked special teams is a passable unit and special teams is the least predictive of the three phases. Overall, they rank just 26th in mixed efficiency, which is much worse than their record would suggest.
That being said, I am going to take the Steelers this week, for a few reasons. For one, they are getting significantly healthier on defense, at least compared to a week ago, with edge defender TJ Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick both set to return from short absences and cornerback Joe Haden seeming likely to join them after a short absence as well. The Steelers’ are still missing a pair of key defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, the latter of whom has not played all season, but they won’t be as short-handed as they were a week ago.
The Steelers are also in a good spot this week, as divisional road underdogs in a regular season rematch of a game in which the Steelers lost as home favorites, dropping their week three matchup in Pittsburgh against the Bengals by a final score of 24-10 as 3-point favorites. Teams tend to get revenge in this spot, or at least exceed expectations, covering at a 57.5% rate historically. On top of that, the Bengals are also an overrated team, as their 6-4 record has come against one of the easiest schedules in the league.
In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Bengals rank 25th, 19th, 9th respectively on offense, defense, and special teams and, overall, they rank 23rd in mixed efficiency. That’s still better than the Steelers and this line, which favors the Bengals by 3.5 points at home, is fair, but when you add in that the Steelers are in a better spot, they look like the right side. This is a no confidence pick because we’re actually getting a little bit of line value with the Bengals, but the Steelers are the pick for pick ‘em purposes because of the spot they are in.
Cincinnati Bengals 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 20
Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +3.5