- Cincinnati has totaled 50 points over their past five games since a Week 9 bye, exceeding 10 points just one time
Pittsburgh heads to Cincinnati with an extra day of rest that must have felt like a month coming off a stretch where they played three games in 12 days. Their undefeated season is gone, and now they sit on a two-game losing streak after falling to Washington and Buffalo over the past two weeks. And to make matters worse, injuries have begun to pile up.
But in the Bengals, Pittsburgh draws the ultimate get-right spot. Since Joe Burrow’s injury, an already bad Cincinnati team has been perhaps the league’s worst. They’ve managed just 50 total points over their past five games, losing all five by an average of 14.8 points per game. Most of that came with Brandon Allen under center, and Cincinnati now turns to Ryan Finley. Typically, a new quarterback at least has the potential to breathe some life into an offense, but we saw Finley in extensive action late last year, and so did the Bengals, which is why they turned to Allen when Burrow went down.
For his career, Finley has completed a putrid 48.1% of 106 pass attempts for 5.2 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s taken sacks at an absurdly high rate and fumbled four times. And now he’s lined up to face a defense that despite losing some key pieces is still one of the best in the league, and does welcome Joe Haden back. Between Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins, Finley does have two pass catchers that can make some noise, but what we know suggests he isn’t good enough to sustain drives at the NFL level even in situations where he’s not playing behind a severely overmatched offensive line against one of the league’s fiercest defensive fronts.
Sometimes bad teams in late-season situations get feisty, try some trick plays, and we see a bit of a spark that wasn’t there previously. Zac Taylor is a creative coach who I think might have a decent future in the NFL, but I’m not expecting him to try too much of that in this situation. In all likelihood, Cincinnati will call run plays at a higher rate than they should as their deficit mounts. Even if they do decide to come out throwing, Finley is likely to take a beating, and that could facilitate a switch to a more conservative approach in the second half. Crazy stuff sometimes happens in the NFL, but this feels like a “just get through it healthy” kind of game for Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh’s offense has struggled a bit lately, mostly due to drops issues and a stretch of solid defenses in Baltimore, Washington, and Buffalo. Having completely abandoned the run, James Conner’s questionable status isn’t a significant issue, and we can expect plenty of Ben Roethlisberger pass attempts as the Bengals’ pass rush doesn’t pose a threat. The Steelers have failed to hit 20 points in three straight games, their only three such games this season, and will have plenty of reason to treat this game as the get-right spot I mentioned. I’m expecting them to be aggressive early to try to get into a rhythm, and I’m expecting that to work against one of the league's worst defenses by any metric.
This game carries a two-touchdown line, and typically I don’t like to take huge favorites in the unpredictable NFL. But Monday night’s game looks destined for a repeat of the 36-10 beatdown the Steelers put on the Bengals the last time these teams met. I like Pittsburgh to take a sizable early lead and cover.
NFL Expert Picks
Steelers -14 @ -110
NFL Free Picks
Monday Night Football sees the Steelers travelling into Cincinnati to face the Bengals, in a divisional game, which has lost some of it's excitement with the Steelers poor form, and the injury to Joe Burrow. It'll likely be a good game though, with the two sides having a history of tough and violent games against one another.
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