Steelers vs. Bengals Picks, Predictions & Betting Odds: Is There Value on Cincy at Home?

Steelers vs. Bengals Picks, Predictions & Betting Odds: Is There Value on Cincy at Home? article feature image

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley (5), running back Joe Mixon (28).

  • Could the Cincinnati Bengals secure their first win of 2019 as home underdogs against the Pittsburgh Steelers?
  • Our experts analyze this Week 12 matchup, complete with betting odds and expert picks.
  • You'll also find analysis of the biggest mismatch and Sean Koerner's projected spread below.

Steelers at Bengals Picks, Predictions & Betting Odds

  • Odds: Steelers -6.5
  • Over/Under: 38.5
  • Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
  • TV Channel: CBS

Odds as of Thursday evening.

The Cincinnati Bengals are the only winless team in the NFL, and with all the of drama surrounding Pittsburgh, Week 12 presents a grand opportunity to get a win — or at the very least a cover. As of Thursday the Steelers have garnered only a little more than 50% of spread tickets in this game.

Could this finally be a winning week for the Bengals?

Our experts analyze all the angles of this matchup, including a comparison of the current odds to Sean Koerner’s projections and a pick.

Steelers-Bengals Injury Report

Which team is healthier? Bengals

Somehow, Diontae Johnson (concussion) is practicing in full this week after he was bleeding from the ears last Thursday. That’s good news for the Steelers since JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee/concussion) is expected to miss this game, as is James Conner (shoulder).

The Bengals will be shorthanded at receiver with A.J. Green (ankle) expected to be out (shocking), and Auden Tate (concussion) hasn’t yet cleared concussion protocol. Also of note, receiver Stanley Morgan hasn’t practiced all week due to an illness. The Bengals are incredibly thin at receiver at the moment. Justin Bailey

Note: Info as of Thursday. See our Injury Report for daily practice participation and game statuses up until kickoff.

Biggest Mismatch

Steelers Running Backs vs. Bengals Linebackers

The Bengals are 0-10. I can’t possibly say that they have an edge in any one facet of the game.

Against running backs, the Bengals are No. 30 in rush success rate allowed and No. 31 in pass success rate allowed (per Sharp Football Stats). They’ve yielded 162.5 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game to the position. Basically, they make opposing backfields look like Christian McCaffrey.

Most of the fault for their incompetence in backfield defense lies with their linebackers. In run defense, the Bengals are worst in the intermediate range of the field, where they rank No. 31 with 1.47 second-level yards allowed per run. To make matters worse, the Bengals are No. 31 in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA against running backs. Last year, they were also No. 31.

Last week, the Bengals cut the imminently subpar Preston Brown, replacing him in the lineup with rookie Germaine Pratt. As bad as Brown is, Pratt isn’t any better. And in Nick Vigil they have one of the league’s worst starting middle linebackers. All of this is reflected in their Pro Football Focus grades.

  • Vigil: 51.9 overall grade | 47.7 run defense | 58.9 coverage
  • Pratt: 35.0 overall grade | 56.0 run defense | 29.6 coverage

A former college H-back and tight end who pitched in as a strategic rusher, Jaylen Samuels isn’t a natural running back.

Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jaylen Samuels

But he can still put up numbers. In his six games entirely (or mostly) without Conner over the past year, Samuels has averaged 82.7 yards and 0.33 touchdowns on 11.5 carries, 6.3 targets and 5.5 receptions.

One of the league’s best pass-catching backs, Samuels had eight receptions on eight targets against the Bengals in Week 4. And Samuels has a decent crew of supplementary backs to support him.

Rookie grinder Benny Snell (knee) is tentatively expected to return this week. In limited action, he has 4.2 yards per carry, and as an SEC back, he had more than 1,000 yards rushing in all three of his college campaigns.

Over the past three games, halfback-fullback tweener Trey Edmunds has had a 35% snap rate and averaged 4.5 yards per carry on 6.3 thunderous runs per game.

And last week the team signed rookie Kerrith Whyte, who has great speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash) and was one of the best change-of-pace backs in college football last year (1,026 scrimmage yards and 11 all-purpose touchdowns).

Against defenders as hapless as Vigil and Pratt, some combination of these running backs should be able to put up 120-plus yards and a touchdown. — Matthew Freedman

Sean Koerner’s Projected Odds

  • Projected Spread: Steelers -6.5
  • Projected Total: 39.5

The market for this game is right in line with my projections. Ryan Finley has been dreadful as the starter, but the Bengals are in clear tank mode and are gunning for the top pick in the 2020 draft.

There’s a very real chance they go 0-16 — their Week 16 matchup against the Dolphins will likely be the deciding game. I’ve speculated the Dolphins will be around 1.5- to 2-point favorites if Ryan Fitzpatrick is starting for the Dolphins.

The Steelers face a potential cluster injury situation to key skill positions here as WRs Smith-Schuster and Johnson along with Conner are questionable. If all three are ruled out I would expect this line to drop to -6 or even -5.5, so we’ll need to monitor the market.

Either way, I’m going to avoid betting on this game with so many other great matchups to try to cap. Sean Koerner

Expert Picks

Stuckey: Bengals +3.5 1H; Bengals +7

This is a prime Mike Tomlin spot — one of my favorite spots in the NFL, which pops up when the Steelers are road favorites — especially against bad teams.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many more times: Tomlin is as good of a coach as there is in the NFL when it comes to motivating teams for an emotional spot (see: rematch vs Browns coming up, which I circled as soon as the chaos ensued in Cleveland).

Ultimate Tomlin rah rah fire up the troops spot

— Stuckey (@Stuckey2) November 15, 2019

But on the other side of the coin, his teams perennially come out flat in spots just like this one against an 0-10 team in an half-empty stadium.

The Tomlin numbers don’t lie:

  • He’s 25-34-1 against the spread for a -15.3% ROI, worst among 101 coaches who have been a road favorite since 2003.
  • He’s 13-27-1 (32.5%) ATS vs. teams with a losing record, with the worst ROI (-32.8%) among 99 coaches (second-worst is Jon Gruden at 2-10).
  • He’s 5-13 ATS as a favorite of seven or more points.

Tomlin also has a propensity to lose these games outright:

  • He’s 23-18 as a road favorite against sub .500 teams — a $100 bettor would be down $935, which it the worst among 99 coaches.
  • He’s lost outright at least once in this scenario as a touchdown or better favorite in each of the past five seasons.

The Bengals are absolutely dreadful, but this is more of a fade of a Steelers team I was ready to fire against last week in Cleveland. Plus, I’ve been looking to sell Mason Rudolph who has arguably been even worse than Mitch Trubisky. And now Rudolph likely won’t have his starting center and his most important weapon on the outside in Smith-Schuster. That means an offense already lacking any explosiveness will get even worse.

Take the +7 — buy it on the cheap if you can’t get — and fade the Steelers here in a game the Bengals should be up for as they seek their first win against a division rival in a spot Pitt usually comes out flat.

I also split half my bet on Bengals first-half +3.5 since I don’t think their offense will be capable of coming back from a big deficit if the Steelers do somehow go ahead. I think this is a close throughout and +7 is a premium in what should be a low-scoring divisional matchup.

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