AFC Wild Card: Steelers-Bengals Preview & Picks

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NFL badly need this game to knock one out of the park, but I think it’s a safe bet that it will.  The storylines tonight when Pittsburgh goes to Cincinnati are abundant: Division rivals, PIT offense vs. CIN defense, A.J. McCarron, whether the Steelers D is legitimate, and how this game determines playoff matchups next week.

Let me say that as a Pats fan, I’d rather have the Pats face the Chiefs if Jeremy Maclin is out.  Travis Kelce worries me a little big against the Pats, but the offense as a whole would be way too weak to do significant damage against the Pats D if Maclin is out.

For that reason, we should probably root for the Steelers.  If the Pats can shut down the Chiefs sans Maclin, then so can the Broncos.  Their awesome secondary and pass rushers would smother a mediocre defense without its biggest threat.

As for the pick on Steelers-Bengals, I feel way more confident about my spread pick than I do about the straight up pick.  The Steelers are favored by 3, and that’s too much, so I’ll take Bengals +3.  PIT -2.5 would make me hesitate, but if a Steelers win by a field goal is a push and not a loss, I’m going the other way.

For the actual game, I’ll narrowly pick the Bengals.  Cincy’s Football Outsiders rankings are 1st offensively, 10th defensively, and 9th special teams.  Their defense can at least contain the Steelers without DeAngelo Williams, and their offensive weapons will be enough to take advantage of the weak Pittsburgh secondary.  The Steelers come in at 7th overall as opposed to the Bengals at #2, and Pittsburgh’s offense is 3rd, defense is 11th, and special teams are 18th.  As much as I love FO’s DVOA stats, i don’t buy the one about the Steelers’ defense.

Ultimately, I have enough faith in A.J. McCarron to get the job ton with the fearsome team around him, and a good home team as an underdog is too good to pass up.  Since the Wild Card Round started, home teams are 12-8 straight up and 13-7 against the spread, which explains why I’m taking the Bengals against the spread and straight up.  The public overrates Pitssburgh and underrates Cincinnati a little too much.  But if Jeremy Maclin is out, which seems likely, then I’ll be rooting for the Steelers.

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