The Pittsburgh Steelers have blown two fourth quarter leads this season against lesser opponents. The Cincinnati Bengals are still searching for respect. Something has to give, but where does the value lie?
Public perception is hard to shake. Going back to the Summer, the Steelers have remained the favorite in this match-up. In the offseason they were listed as -1.5 point favorites, bumped up to -3 point favorites last week in the look-ahead line, and re-opened at -2.5 earlier this week. "Smart money" immediately identified value on the Bengals and the line has sat at -1 the last few days. My question is whether or not the right team favored here? I think this game should be a "pick em" at best.
By the Numbers: Defense
When we dig into the numbers, it's safe to say one could walk away from this analysis even more confused than before we started.
First up are the defenses. For Pittsburgh, not having Polamalu is a big problem - and he's out again this week. There are not many teams in the league that suffer as much as the Steelers do when their stud safety is out of the lineup. In fact, they give up roughly a touchdown more per game when he's not in there.
Beyond that, the Steelers actually rank below-average, or near the bottom, of most important categories - run, pass, drive success, third down, and red zone. The bizarre part is they've achieved these numbers against ho-hum offenses. The mystical days of yesteryear could officially be a thing of the past.
A.J. Green is going to be a load to handle and it will be interested to see how Dick Lebeau game-plans for him. Even if Andy Dalton is throwing more interceptions, this passing attack has a distinct advantage on Sunday night.
On the flip side, the Bengals defense is even more alarming. They've also faced some weak offenses, but they've also been much more inconsistent this season. After Carlos Dunlap returned to the lineup, their D-line took off, but that production has dried up in recent weeks. Given the problems Big Ben has in front of him, this is a key area to watch closely. If the Bengals can ramp up the pressure, the issues in their secondary could go unnoticed.
If on the other hand, Big Ben shakes off the rush, he'll annihilate Cincy's back end.
The rest of the story for Cincy is good news, bad news. They are pretty good at getting off the field on third down, but once opposing teams get in their red zone, they can't get a stop.
By the Numbers: Offense
When comparing these offenses, it's hard to ignore the stats. The Steelers have been better with their drive success, third down conversions, and red zone efficiency. They've also been far more consistent on this side of the ball. What's most impressive is they've faced stiffer defenses than Cincy's offense.
The downside is Pittsburgh is once again without a running game as Mendenhall and Redman are out.
If healthy, it's hard not to favor the Steelers in this match-up. The reality is Pittsburgh is one of the most banged up teams in the entire league - including injuries to key personnel. Throw in home field advantage in a prime-time spot, and it's difficult to ignore the value on the Bengals. The fact that the Steelers cannot protect a lead only compounds the issue.
Yet, I have to take a pass on this one. If I was forced to make a pick I'd ride the home team, but if Vegas isn't going to give me a full field goal, I don't see enough value to take the chance. Neither one of these teams inspires much confidence at the moment.
NFL Pick: Flip a coin.