Entering the 2016 NFL season with high expectations, the Pittsburgh Steelers lived up to the hype in the opener. After winning big in Week 1, Pittsburgh gets one of their toughest tests this year when they host the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.
Though the season is just underway, Sunday’s game will go a long way in determining the winner of the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens could compete for a playoff spot, but the Steelers and Bengals are the class of the division. Their two head-to-head matchups could be the difference between having a chance to compete for the Super Bowl and missing the postseason entirely.
Most of the experts who made Pittsburgh their preseason Super Bowl pick did so because of the team’s ability to score. The Steelers ended 2015 ranked third in total offense, and they begin 2016 with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, something Pittsburgh didn’t have at multiple points last year. Visiting the Washington Redskins on “Monday Night Football,” the Steelers scored 38 points, more than any AFC team in Week 1.
Antonio Brown showed why he is widely considered to be the NFL’s best wide receiver, catching eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. DeAngelo Williams, starting in place of the suspended Le’Veon Bell, picked up where he left off last year and totaled 143 rushing yards on 26 carries.
Going up against the Washington defense is certainly different than facing Cincinnati, who had the league’s No. 2 scoring defense a year ago. But Pittsburgh maintained an unstoppable passing attack, despite the presence of arguably the NFL’s best cornerback in Josh Norman.
The Bengals picked up a road win to start the season, defeating the New York Jets 23-22. Cincinnati was fortunate to escape MetLife Stadium with a victory, winning because of a blocked field goal and a missed extra point. The Jets weren’t able to do a whole lot through the air, but they had their way with the Bengals on the ground, rushing for 152 yards on 5.1 yards per carry.
If Cincinnati hopes to win in Pittsburgh, they might have to do so in a shootout. Andy Dalton put up bigger numbers than almost any quarterback in Week 1, completing 76.7 percent of his passes for 366 yards. A.J. Green torched Pro-Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, ending the game with 12 catches.
Dalton threw for a lot of yards, but Cincinnati only scored 23 points because the quarterback was under pressure all day. He was sacked seven times, facing one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. Despite holding the Redskins to just 16 points in the opener, the Steelers didn’t register one sack. The battle between Cincinnati’s offensive line and Pittsburgh’s defensive front could determine whether the game surpasses the over/under of 48.5 points.
Pittsburgh is a three-point favorite at Las Vegas and online sportsbooks, via OddsShark, and the game would be considered a toss-up on a neutral field. The Steelers have the edge at home, where they’ve gone 6-2 in each of the past two seasons, and it’ll be hard for any team to keep them below 30 points on a weekly basis.
Prediction: Pittsburgh over Cincinnati, 34-27