The Bengals got a bye last week, giving them some time to assess and develop what has been a very Jekyll and Hyde season for them.
The Steelers, meanwhile, went into Arrowhead and won a hard-fought battle with the Chiefs. Mike Tomlin’s side went to the game plan that worked so well last season and jumped on the back of Le’Veon Bell, as the All-Pro carried the ball 32 times for 179 yards and a score. However, it was a fortunately play on a tipped pass that Antonio Brown was able to take for 51 yards and a touchdown late on that really sealed the game for them.
Keep your head
This game has turned into one of the NFL’s most-heated rivalries, with ejections and a whole host of flags not very far away. A lot of this stems from the aggression and short-temper of Vontaze Burfict, but it’s not just he who gets into trouble when these two face off. Whichever team can control themselves and avoid needless penalties will give themselves a big edge in this one.
Le’Veon Bell had a slow start to the season, but he looks well and truly back now. His patient style and slashing speed are coming to the fore and have caused big problems for the Bengals before. Cincinnati will have to make a point of playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage if they want to try and control Bell, while the Steelers need to stick with him and keep the game off Big Ben’s arm.
Feed the beast
Both these teams have elite, high-end, receivers who need to be fed the ball. Antonio Brown and AJ Green are game breakers, and containing the other team’s star wide-out will be a big point of emphasis for both defenses. Pittsburgh’s secondary has long been a problem, but it is undoubtedly improved this season, especially second-year corner Artie Burns, while the Bengals still have a deep rotation of corners, none of whom really stand out as being capable of going toe-to-toe with AB. Both offenses want to get the ball in the hands of their stars, and the defenses simply cannot allow it.
Matchup to Watch: Geno Atkins vs David DeCastro
I’m a self-confessed lineman nerd, and there are few matchups better this week than that of All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins and All-Pro right guard David DeCastro. The Steelers offensive line has struggled to find a rhythm this season, but as the grind of the year takes it’s toll they are starting to get their act together, particularly in pass protection. The Bengals defense has been impressively consistent both against the pass and the run, and a big reason is Atkins. The veteran leads the team in sacks (4), tackles for loss (6), and QB hits (8), in other words he is living in the offensive backfield and causing chaos. DeCastro needs to cut off Atkins from the ball if the Steelers are going to have any success on Sunday.
Fantasy Tip: Steelers TE Jesse James
The Bengals haven’t been very good at defending tight ends this season, and while the James does not have a big role in the Steelers offense he is still a threat. His 18 catches, 151 yards, and two scores are not stand-out numbers, but they do show he can get involved, and if the Bengals are concentrating on Bell and Brown, that leaves the middle of the field wide open for James.
Betting Tip: Bengals (+5.5)
The Bengals are coming off a bye and have an offense that is clicking. Meanwhile, the Steelers are yet to really shine. What makes us think their offense can really run away from a very well balanced defense? Take the points.
Prediction: Steelers 23 – 20 Bengals
The Steelers running game could be the difference here. If they can lean on Bell and avoid turnovers I don’t think the Bengals will be able to keep up. The X-factor is the potential debut of John Ross, who’s speed could cause the Steelers real problems, but if he isn’t playing it’s almost certainly going to be a case of AJ Green and not a lot else, which doesn’t bode too well for the Bengals.
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