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Week 13 Monday Night Football Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals Betting Advice

By Peter Brooks in Sports
| November 30, 2017 12:00 am PDT
steelers-vs-bengals

To the casual NFL fan, this game might seem like it’s going to be one-sided. But it’s important to remember that this Monday Night Football matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals is, in fact, a hated AFC North division rivalry.

These two teams hate each other, and I bet you we’ll see that hatred boil over on Monday Night.

Playing each other twice a year almost every single year since 1970, when they became a part of the same division, the rivalry has become more and more one-sided as time went on, with the Steelers entering into a sustained tradition of excellence following the drafting of Ben Roethlisberger and the Bengals traveling a rockier path.

Since 2000, the Steelers hold the record in this rivalry 28–9, and that’s notwithstanding the resurgence that the Bengals have gone through during the Andy Dalton era.

And in addition to the overall record, these games have also featured a whole lot of bad blood between these two teams, both featuring very fierce defenses. Between the Ryan Shazier hit on Giovanni Bernard in the 2016 Wild Card game and the continuing antics of Vontaze Burfict, the memories go on and on.

Even though the Steelers have the upper hand this season, the Bengals want nothing more than to spoil their chances at the division title (or at least at a first-round bye).

  • Who: Pittsburgh Steelers (9–2) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (5–6)
  • Where: Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati, Ohio
  • When: Monday, December 4, 2017. 8:30 PM (EST) on ESPN

And below, I’ve got you covered with all the information you’ll need to pick whether Cincinnati will be able to pull it off. Specifically, I’ll cover the following bets:

  • Moneyline bets
  • Bets against the spread
  • The total score over/under bet
  • Any prop bets or futures that could hold value

Despite this game seeming one-sided, it doesn’t get any better than a heated division rivalry on MNF.

Steelers vs. Bengals Betting

FootballMoneyLine
  • Steelers -240
  • Bengals +200

In picking games straight-up for moneyline odds, my philosophy involves taking a look at the two teams holistically, in order to determine which team has the mental advantage.

In my experience, when a team is able to maintain its mental toughness for the entire 60-minute contest, they’ll generally be able to limit mistakes and win. On the other hand, when mental errors like penalties and turnovers accumulate, a team can easily see the game slip away and end in a loss.

Generally, the first place I look to see which team has the mental edge is home field advantage.

However, in a heated division rivalry such as this one, both teams have such degree of familiarity with the opposing stadium that home field advantage won’t make much of an impact. With a veteran coach and quarterback like Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger, there’s no reason to think the Steelers will be negatively affected playing in Cincinnati. And don’t forget that their fans travel extremely well.

The bigger question in terms of assigning a mental advantage in this game is trying to figure out which team will show up in a big game like this one, and play with heart.

The biggest thing I learned from the Steelers’ last game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football was something I’ve suspected all season: Pittsburgh plays down to the level of the competition.

The Steelers could have easily blown the Packers out of the water last game. Green Bay has no pass rush at all, and their offense without Aaron Rodgers is a shade of itself. And yet the Steelers gave up two touchdowns on obviously blown coverages, and ended up -3 in the turnover ratio. Mental mistakes.

And we’ve seen Pittsburgh blow teams out, like their 40–17 win over Tennessee two weeks ago.

And yet, we’ve also seen them beat the Colts by only 3 points, go to overtime with the Bears, and lose to the Jaguars by 21 points. It’s entirely possible that Pittsburgh lets Cincinnati stay in this game.

But at the same time, the Bengals have done nothing to prove that they can hang around in big games, with 4 of their 5 wins this season coming against teams that currently have 3 wins or less.

The only “good team” that the Bengals have beaten this season, by that standard, was the Buffalo Bills, who are currently at 6–5. In their Week 7 game in Pittsburgh, they lost 14–29, and now after playing Pittsburgh again (at a record of 9–2), they still have the Vikings (9–2), the Lions (6–5), and the Ravens (6–5).

Altogether, I’m not confident that the Bengals can play a clean game against a good team. I think that they will make mental mistakes and that the Steelers will capitalize, leading to a road win for Pittsburgh.

Pick: Steelers to win

FootballSpread
  • Steelers -6 (-105)
  • Bengals +6 (-115)

Now that I’ve made my pick for the Steelers to win this game in Cincinnati on Monday Night Football because of the inability of the Bengals to play a clean game against a good team, it’s now time to answer the question of whether Pittsburgh will win by more than 6 points.

In picking games against the spread, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s offense matches up against the losing team’s defense.

In my experience, when a team is able to both stay mentally tough enough to win and also matches up well enough on offense to score points, they’ll generally win both straight-up and against the spread. On the other hand, when the losing team can generate stops, they’ll often keep the game close enough to cover.

In this game, the matchup to watch for the ATS bet is the Steelers’ offense vs. the Bengals’ defense.

The Steelers clearly have all the weapons necessary to score points. With Le’Veon Bell leading the league in rushing yards and Antonio Brown probably the best receiver in the game right now, (not to mention the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster and the rest of Pittsburgh’s offense), there’s no doubting the fact that the Steelers have the talent necessary to score points.

The biggest question we have to answer is whether the Steelers will be able to pile it on, or if the Bengals match up well enough on defense to generate stops.

Unfortunately for Steelers fans, despite the fact that the Bengals have only won 5 games this season, it hasn’t been because of their defense. Cincinnati is ranked 10th in the league in scoring (allowing only 19.5 points per game) despite the fact that their defense is on the field the 4th-longest in the league (per drive).

The strength of the Cincinnati defense is in their pass defense, so Pittsburgh will need to run the ball.

Despite fielding the 20th-most passing attempts in the league, the Bengals have allowed only the 5th-fewest passing yards, for an impressive average of 5.4 net yards allowed per pass attempt (2nd-best in the league). In addition, they’ve only given up 12 passing TDs, which is also top five in the league.

I do think that the Steelers will be able to move the ball on the ground against the Bengals, who have allowed the 5th-most rushing yards in the league, but that makes for a lot of long, slow drives.

If the Bengals can effectively cover Antonio Brown and limit chunk passing plays, the Steelers will need to grind it out to win, which doesn’t make for the type of high-octane offensive production that wins against the spread. I like the Bengals to fight fiercely and to keep this game within a 6-point margin.

Pick: Steelers to win by less than 6

FootballTotal Score
  • Over 43.5 (-110)
  • Under 43.5 (-110)

Now that I’ve made my pick for the Steelers to win this game because of their mental advantage over the volatile Bengals, but for Cincinnati to cover because they’ll be able to limit Pittsburgh’s passing attack, it’s now time to answer the question of whether this will be a high- or low-scoring game.

When picking games for the total score over/under bet, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s defense matches up against the losing team’s offense.

In my experience, when a team is able to both score points on offense and generate stops on defense, they’ll generally be able to control the flow and timing of the game to such a degree that the total score goes under. On the other hand, when the losing team can also score points, the game often turns into a shootout that pushes the total score over.

The matchup to watch for the total score over/under is the Steelers’ defense vs. the Bengals’ offense.

The Steelers’ defense has been top-notch for many years now but has evolved significantly during that time. From the days of hard-nosed blitzing defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the unit has now transformed this season into the defense that figured out how to stop the Kansas City Chiefs, which the rest of the league has emulated to great effect since the two teams faced off in Week 6.

Meanwhile, the Bengals’ offense has improved significantly since firing their offensive coordinator after only three games, but they still have a lot of issues to iron out.

The stats are not pretty for the Bengals’ offense, with the 5th-fewest passing yards in the league and the 2nd-fewest rush yards. Their run game is especially terrible, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry (2nd-worst in the league), which is the major reason why they are the worst in the league in the average number of plays per offensive drive.

Cincinnati can’t stay on the field on offense, failing to convert third downs and convert drives into points.

Against Pittsburgh’s stout defense, I don’t see this reversing itself. Cincinnati will throw everything it’s got at the Steelers, but it won’t be enough to push the over.

Pick: Bengals 17, Steelers 21

FootballMy Favorite Prop Bet

Now that I’ve established my overall prediction for the game, I’d also like to include my favorite prop bet, informed by the view of how things will play out that I explained above.

  • Vontaze Burfict to get thrown out of the game

The hotheaded linebacker is routinely getting into trouble, and with the Bengals tottering on the edge of playoff contention against a heated division rival, I think that once the game starts to slip away Burfict’s self-control will slip away with it. Look for the odds of a Burfict ejection and thank me later.

Summary: Best Bets

The Steelers have dominated this AFC North rivalry for the entire duration of the 21st century, but that doesn’t mean that this will be an easy game for Pittsburgh. The Steelers have developed a pattern of playing down to the level of the competition, and I think this has all the makings of a trap game.

Ultimately, I think that the Steelers will be able to get out of that trap and come away with a win in Cincinnati, but I think it will be close. I like Cincinnati’s sneaky-good pass defense to shut down Big Ben and keep things on the ground, which will speed up the game and keep it close.

In order to profit off of this view of the game, here are my best bets:

  • Steelers -240 moneyline
  • Bengals +6 against the spread (-115)
  • The total score to go under 43.5 (-110)
  • Vontaze Burfict to get thrown out of the game

Primetime football brings out the best and the worst in teams, and I’m envisioning a well-played game with a lot of emotions flaring. Though it may not impact the playoff picture one way or another (depending on how things play out), this matchup on Monday Night Football should be a thriller nonetheless.

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