I like the Steelers in a big way this week.
The Steelers are 13-2 at Paul Brown Stadium in the Marvin Lewis era.
Le'Veon Bell has only played two full games against the Bengals. Bell had one of the biggest games of his career in Cincinnati in 2014 when he ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns while catching six passes for 50 yards and another score in a 42-21 win. I think this game is going to look similar, but with fewer big pass plays from both teams. Ben is still going to hit some throws downfield, but I don't anticipate a 96 yard bomb like in that 2014 game.
AB had seven catches for 119 yards in last year’s playoff game before the Burfict hit. I expect similar numbers this week, although he hasn't cracked the century mark in receiving yards in a while.
The Steelers will use the jumbo package a lot, just like last week. Chris Hubbard played 30 snaps on offense against the Bills. I'd love to see him catch a pass . . . maybe he gets a 2 point conversion. This extra tight end formation forces the defense to commit to stopping the run, which actually opens up the passing game. I think Ben is going to use play-action quite effectively. I look for Ben to bounce back from that 3 interception, 37.8 passer rating performance against the Bills and put up good numbers. I suspect DeAngelo Williams is going to see some playing time in an effort to even out Bell's workload a bit. I think he and Bell will be in the backfield together at times, with Bell motioning out in an attempt to get him matched up on a linebacker. The Bengals have allowed more than 100 yards rushing eight times, including 169 against the Browns last week. Bell might get that much himself.
The Bengals offensive line isn't all that good. They don't run the ball that well and Rex Burkhead doesn't strike fear in anyone's heart. With or without A. J. Green (and I'm guessing without, based on his limited participation in practice Wednesday) Andy Dalton is going to be under duress most of the game. The Steelers are going to add to their sack total. The Steelers have allowed an average of 12.5 points and 257yards the last four games.I expect a similar effort this week.
Bill Vinovich's crew will officiate this week. The Steelers haven't seen him yet this year, but he was the referee in the Bengals win over the Dolphins on a Thursday night earlier this year. His crew calls a slightly lower than average number of penalties. In the Bengals-Dolphins game, Burfict's first game back after his suspension, there were no personal fouls called. Vinovich's crew was off last week. I don't anticipate penalties becoming a factor in the outcome, although Burfict remains the ultimate wild card.
The Number 2 seed is still possible, and Steelers continue down the road to the playoffs in convincing fashion, 27 - 13 over the Bengals.