Both the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers enter Monday night’s NFL game with 0-3 records. But are all 0-3 teams crated equal? Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are,” and maybe that is good for determining a place in the standings, but handicappers know that it is otherwise.
Who will pick up their first win here? Mike Tomlin, one of the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL, or Zac Taylor, a relative babe in the woods, who is the beneficiary of the latest coaching wave – to find clones of Sean McVay?
The Steelers and Bengals will lock horns at 8:15 PM ET on Monday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
And guess what? If you are a BetAnySports customer, you’ll have the chance to place wagers even after the game kicks off, as you take advantage of what is available through Live Betting Ultra.
Truth be told, the Bengals could conceivably be 2-1 right now. After losing a tough 21-20 decision in Seattle in the opening week, they laid down on defense against San Francisco and then made a nice comeback in the second half against Buffalo, turning a 14-0 deficit into a 17-14 lead, until the Bills scored with less than two minutes left. Then Andy Dalton was knocking on the Buffalo door before throwing a red zone INT with a dozen seconds left.
Taylor,. a former quarterback coach with the L.A. Rams, talks a lot about the “culture” and “accountability” but would like to turn that into wins. He came into this season with some proven commodities, including Dalton (for better or worse), but there was so much work to be done on either side of the ball. Last year’s Bengal defense ranked dead last in the NFL. Has there been marked improvement? Well, the good news is that they are in the league’s top 20 in terms of yards allowed per drive, but they are still surrendering over 400 yards per game.
The Steelers are trying to demonstrate to their fans that the campaign is not lost, despite the season-ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger. Mason Rudolph’s first start at QB produced 174 yards and an interception, as well as eleven first downs. If you’re looking for bad signs, here’s one – Pittsburgh was the beneficiary of five San Francisco turnovers, but still lost the game 24-20.
In the Monday night football odds posted on this game by the folks at BetAnySports – infused with reduced juice – the Steelers are the home favorites:
Pittsburgh Steelers -3 (-115)
Cincinnati Bengals +3 (+105)
Over 45 points (-103)
Under 45 points (-107)
Rudolph connected with Juju Smith-Schuster on a 76-yard touchdown pass. The Steelers like his ability to throw the deep ball, and at some point in time he is expected to make a meaningful connection with his college teammate (Oklahoma State), James Washington, who had two receptions for 14 yards against the Niners.
The only team in the NFL operating with LESS balance than Cincinnati right now is Arizona, where the scheme calls for a steady diet of throws. But the Bengals have no excuse not to use running back Joe Mixon, who topped 1000 yards and had almost five yards a carry last year.
The Bengals don’t appear to be getting much out of the offensive line, which has allowed Dalton to be sacked eleven times and has cleared the way for only 2.4 yards per carry. It’s still early in the schedule, but you have to be able to amass more than 126 rushing yards over your first three games. They are already without tackle Jonah Williams, the first-round draft pick, who’ll miss the season. Another tackle, Cordy Glenn, hasn’t played and just started practicing, and will be out one more week. And guard Billy Price take a seat in favor of Michael Jordan, a fourth-round rookie out of Ohio State who sat out last week with an injury.
The Steelers also have to get the ground game going. They’ve yet to uncork James Conner, who’s averaging just 2.9 per attempt. And they’ll need him, because tight end Vance McDonald, who should be an ideal target for Rudolph, is listed as doubtful.
One of the positive things the Bengals can point to is that John Ross has at least shaken loose for some production. Ross is one of the fastest players in the NFL; at least that is what you would conclude from his 40-yard dash time, and he’s averaging 22.5 yards on his 13 receptions. If he stumbles, however, the Bengals will be in a tough spot here, because AJ Green, the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver who had ankle surgery early in pre-season, is not ready to return just yet.
I understand that Cincinnati, despite just 71 net yards passing and nine first downs, still kept to within three points of the Steelers in last season’s finale at Heinz Field, in a game Jeff Driskel started at quarterback.
I am also aware that the road team has covered the last five games in this series.
But I’m still going to lean toward Pittsburgh here, for a few reasons. First, a basic premise – they still have more real working parts than the Bengals do. Second, they appear to be the team that is more likely to run the ball successfully. Third, Cincinnati has demonstrated that it is awful in the red zone – one of the four worst teams in the league thus far. Fourth, we think the Steelers can win the battle at both sides of the line of scrimmage. Fifth, we have just enough faith in Rudolph.
It’s also not without significance that Pittsburgh now has Minkah Fitzpatrick to help in the secondary, or that they have won eight straight in the series. Or that they are in friendly territory. Or that they are the veteran playoff team that is desperate. We’ll lay it.
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