The Steelers (11-2) visit the Bengals (2-10-1) at Paul Brown Stadium this evening in the penultimate 2020 broadcast of Monday Night Football. The Steelers are whopping 14.5-point road favorites (1010 ML), and the over/under has settled at 40 total points.
The Steelers started the season with little adversity, winning their first 11 games and residing atop the AFC standings with the defending-champion Chiefs. However, they have stumbled a bit as of late, losing 23-17 to Washington at home two weeks ago and then falling 26-15 in Buffalo last Sunday night.
Pittsburgh likely welcomes the trip to Cincinnati to battle their divisional foes, whose hardships this season have been plentiful. The Bengals lost 2020 No. 1 pick, star quarterback Joe Burrow, to an ACL/MCL tear a few weeks ago, and have experienced a plethora of injuries to their defense and running game.
So, will the Steelers coast past their fallen rivals? Or will they get inside their own heads and let the underdog Bengals surprise the world, like we so often see in prime-time games?
We at BetQL love answering such questions. You can visit us at BetQL.com 24/7 for all updated lines, odds, spreads, and expert picks, for this and every NFL game of the 2020 season. We can tell you right now that the BetQL NFL Best Bet Model slightly prefers the OVER on the 40-point total for this one, but its pick against the spread may surprise you. For now, keep reading to see BetQL’s full betting preview and predictions for this Monday Night Football showdown between AFC North rivals with polar-opposite records.
MNF INJURY UPDATE: James Conner
Steelers-Bengals Betting Preview
The Steelers lost their slight edge on the reigning-champion Chiefs two weeks ago when they fell to Washington at home, then they dropped last week’s game against the Bills. Three teams in the loaded AFC now trail Pittsburgh by just one win. Needless to say, Mike Tomlin’s squad likely views this as not only a must-win game but also as a much-needed get-right game.
Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will be in the running for Comeback Player of the Year with Alex Smith, has been solid in his first season back from elbow surgery. He gets the ball out of the pocket quickly, he spreads the targets to his many receivers as well as ever, and he makes winning reads, plays, and throws. The problem lately has been with his supporting cast.
Big Ben’s receivers have struggled mightily with big drops the past few games. If not for Baltimore playing without a handful of its top weapons three weeks ago, the Steelers might be on a three-game losing streak due primarily to the dropsies. And it appears to be quite contagious. Rookie Chase Claypool, who emerged as an early Rookie of the Year candidate with his big play-ability and highlight-reel TDs, suddenly crumbles in big moments. Top Roethlisberger target Diontae Johnson, usually sure-handed, has lately seemed to suffer from ‘hands-like-feet disorder’ (that is, to say, they stink). Tight end Eric Ebron also appears to have the affliction.
All kidding aside, this could be a serious problem for Mike Tomlin and OC Randy Fichtner’s squad. Worse yet, running back James Conner was a shell of his former self in his first game since recovering from COVID-19. The fourth-year back, who famously beat cancer five years ago, managed just 18 yards on 10 carries in Buffalo last week, and now he’s questionable with a quad injury. Backup Benny Snell hasn’t been much better, as he has netted 19 yards in his last 11 carries.
What seemed like a prolific offense earlier in the season now seems like a playoff disaster waiting to happen. This will be the perfect week for Fichtner and Tomlin to employ some new strategies. Get receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster out wide and not just in the slot all the time. Give James Washington more opportunities to expose single coverage. Take a shot with some designed screens for speedy rookie back Anthony McFarland. This would be the week to try some new things and see if they stick.
One thing’s for sure: Keith Butler’s defense can pretty much keep playing the way it has all season. Despite giving up 26 points to the Bills last week (the second-most points allowed by Pittsburgh this season), the Steelers still rank No. 1 in scoring defense with 237 points. They have surrendered the fewest first downs and rushing touchdowns. They rank third in total yards allowed (second in passing yards allowed), and they not only lead the NFL in interceptions, they also have the most pick-sixes.
If its offense gets it going and mounts even a 10-point lead, Pittsburgh’s defense should have no trouble preserving it. But a win by over two touchdowns, which over 74 percent of sharp money is on, seems like a tall order. Pittsburgh is just 8-5 against the spread this season and 2-1 ATS as an away favorite. The Steelers have averaged 17 points per game over their past three outings, so why are so many people sure they will score 15 points more than their lowly opponents?
While the Steelers have hit some speed bumps over the past few weeks, the Bengals have long since veered off the road into a ditch. Things were already looking dismal for Cincinnati this season after notching just two wins (and a tie) in 10 games. But when No. 1 pick and QB of the Bengals’ future Joe Burrow (knee) went down, all hope for their season washed away like the tide. Now the only thing Zac Taylor’s squad has to look forward to is the 2021 NFL Draft, where unfortunately two AFC opponents (the Jets and Jaguars) are currently set to pick ahead of them.
The Bengals have been abysmal across the board this season. They score the third-fewest points, have the fourth-fewest total yards, and commit the sixth-most turnovers. They have attempted the fifth-most passes, yet rank 23rd in passing yards and 27th in passing TDs. They can’t sustain drives, or convert on third downs (37.3 percent, 29th) or in the red zone (51.3-percent TD percentage, 28th).
With Burrow sidelined, Brandon Allen (knee) has been the man coach Zac Taylor and OC Brian Callahan have entrusted under center. But the veteran backup registered a third-consecutive underwhelming performance in Cincy’s 30-7 beatdown by the Cowboys last week, and he endured more than just a bruised ego. Allen suffered five sacks, four QB hits, and, worst of all, one knee injury after two Dallas defenders tackled him on a short scramble. He has been ruled out of tonight’s game, forcing Cincinnati to go with Ryan Finley against a hungry Steelers D.
Finley has completed just 10-of-19 passes with no TDs and two interceptions this season, and he’s been sacked seven of the 33 times he has taken a snap. The running game hasn’t helped either. Starting back Joe Mixon has dealt with a foot injury nearly all season, last seen on the field way back in Week 6. Backup Giovani Bernard no longer seems to be good at football. Samaje Perine has shown flashes, but seems largely ineffective behind this still-struggling offensive line.
Veteran receiver Tyler Boyd and rookie standout Tee Higgins at least give Bengals fans something to be happy about moving forward, especially once Burrow returns. But right now, this team is just going through the motions trying to get through this forgettable year. Finley will put up a fight, just like he did in Cincinnati’s 16-10 loss to the Steelers sans-Roethlisberger in Week 12 of 2019. Garbage-time points will be had, and the Bengals will once again “stun” the betting public by covering, like they have in seven of their 13 games and four of their six home contests this season.
These are the games that try bettors’ souls. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. The Bengals have had a knack for staying in games, scoring garbage-time points, or waving the white flag early enough for their opponents to ease off the accelerator.
Pittsburgh’s defense has been utterly dominant for the majority of the season, and it would be asinine to suggest the Steelers will not control this game against a third-string quarterback. But do consider that the Steelers’ recent offensive woes have translated into some physical fatigue on the other side of the ball. Pittsburgh has covered the spread in just eight of its 13 games and hit the worst patch of its season over the course of the past five weeks. Meanwhile, the Bengals have covered the spread in seven games, and gone 4-2 ATS at home. So, this may not be the best time to jump in headfirst on the Steelers as 14.5-point favorites.
The BetQL Best Bet Model agrees, putting a full five-star rating on Cincinnati +14.5, and a four-star rating on the Bengals +7.5 at halftime. The Model also obviously agrees with my take that the Steelers will ultimately win, putting just two stars on Pittsburgh’s -1010 moneyline. The low rating on the ML can be explained simply: It’s horrendous value, and your Christmas would be ruined if any major injuries led to what would be the upset (and bad beat) of the year. The Model also puts two stars on Pittsburgh’s -500 first-half moneyline, as well as the OVER on both the half (20.5) and on the total (40).
I’m personally expecting the OVER at the half and a PUSH on the total. I’ll take the Steelers 27-13, in a game that will have lots of wives wondering why their husbands are screaming at the TV at 11:30 p.m. the Monday before Christmas.
Enjoy the game, have a Merry Christmas, and may all your bets this holiday season be lucrative! You can find all updated lines, odds, spreads, and NFL picks at BetQL!