Before the season started there was a sense that, somehow, despite waving goodbye to the huge offensive contributions of Antonio Brown (that’s offensive on the field and off, as we’ve discovered) and Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers would be fine in an AFC North that looked one of the tougher divisions in the league on paper.
Well, they’re 0-3 now and have lost another of the “Killer B’s”, Ben Roethlisberger, for the season. Mason Rudolph deputised last week and couldn’t do much despite his defence forcing five (5!) turnovers.
Before that game, all the talk was of the Steelers confidence despite Big Ben’s absence. They sent their 2020 first-round pick to Miami for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and he was part of the reason their defence proved such a problem last week for the Niners.
Most took that to mean Pittsburgh thought they could still compete without Roethlisberger, but you’d wonder if they’re second-guessing themselves now. In addition to the QB doubts, James Connor hasn’t looked as good this season as last, and JuJu Smith-Schuster’s the only receiver they can count on, given how atrocious Donte Moncrief’s been.
There’s a lot of reasons to doubt the Bengals. Andy Dalton’s not getting protected by a leaky o-line, AJ Green’s still out, and Joe Mixon can’t run without blocking, but they’ve been more competitive than many would’ve expected under new coach Zac Taylor. Dalton’s posting decent numbers working with Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Auden Tate, while Rudolph had the chance to get off to good start against San Francisco and blew it last week. I’d be inclined to take the underdog with the points here.
Even though we don’t have Vontaze Burfict’s nastiness to look forward to in this, this AFC North match-up is general pretty rough and I’d expect that to be the case on Monday night.
Despite the turnovers last week, the Steelers D ranks among the worst in the league through three weeks. Fitzpatrick may lift it once he settles in, but it’s a long way from the Troy Polamalu-led unit of years past.
Fortunately, it won’t need to be great against the Bengals’ turnstile of an offensive line. That’ll impede Dalton’s play even more than Dalton himself already impedes it.
For Pittsburgh, they’ll surely build their gameplan around getting the ball in James Connor’s hands after Rudolph’s letdown last week. That should speed up the clock and make this game a bit of a snoozefest scoring-wise.
With their best receiver missing, the Bengals’ other pass-catchers have stepped up through the first three weeks. John Ross and Tyler Boyd were drafted relatively early, so it’s about time they started showing their worth, but one less well-known name who’s flashed their talent is Auden Tate.
Last week, against a ferocious Bills defence, the 22-year-old seventh-round pick led the teams receiving efforts with six catches on 10 targets for 88 yards. Cincy coach Taylor has also spoken highly of him this week, and while Green is out, Tate figures to be someone Dalton will turn to.
I’m looking at him in the Any Time Touchdown market because I don’t expect this to be a high-scoring game, but if you prefer a bigger price and want to bank on the Bengals to get out to a fast start on the road, the 25/1 in the First TD scorer is also worth considering on Tate.