The Pittsburgh Steelers are hanging onto the slimmest of playoff hopes as they host the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17. Game time is set for 4:25 EST on Sunday, December 30, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Fans in certain markets can watch the game on CBS.
According to the Week 17 betting odds, the Steelers are favored by 14.5 points. The over/under for the game is set at 45.5 points.
Six weeks ago, the Steelers looked like a sure thing to make the playoffs and probably win the AFC North. However, they have suffered one of the worst collapses in recent NFL history. Pittsburgh has lost four of their last five games to fall behind the Ravens in the AFC North. If it matters, all four of those losses have come by a touchdown or less, so they aren’t losing games by a large margin, but they also aren’t finding ways to win.
As it stands, the Steelers need to win and hope the Ravens lose to the Browns in order to recapture the AFC North. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s only path to a wild-card spot would be to beat the Bengals and then hope the Colts and Titans play to a tie. Either way, the Steelers are going to need help. But getting help won’t matter if Pittsburgh can’t first take care of business and beat the Bengals.
Fortunately for the Steelers, Cincinnati has also spiraled the second half of the season. The Bengals have lost six of their last seven games, falling to 6-9 on the season and already clinching last place in the AFC North for the first time since 2010. Perhaps more importantly, the Bengals haven’t won a road game since Week 1, so they have rarely played well on the road this season.
Of course, this list still a rivalry game, and one that’s been dominated by Pittsburgh this decade. The Steelers have won 15 of their last 18 meetings with the Bengals, including six in a row. When these two teams met earlier this season, Ben Roethlisberger led a last-minute touchdown drive to lead Pittsburgh to a 28-21 win.
I know the Steelers need this game, but they’re still a team that’s struggling to win games. Picking them to cover a line this big feels downright foolish. The Bengals, of course, are a flawed team. But I still think the road team will be eager to do their part to ruin Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes. I’m happy to lean toward the Bengals to beat the spread.
After missing the last three games, the Steelers still aren’t certain if James Conner will be back this week. Jaylen Samuels has had some promising moments, but he still doesn’t give the Steelers the consistency they need from their running game. Stevan Ridley hasn’t provided much help, especially after a critical fumble against the Saints last week. Without more balance, the Steelers could be hard-pressed to score enough points to cover such a large spread.
Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh’s threats in the passing game are usually enough to put up a solid point total. However, Roethlisberger can still be turnover-prone, tossing 15 interceptions this season. Even against a subpar defense, Roethlisberger throwing an interception or two can’t be ruled out.
Also, while Cincinnati’s defensive stats on the season look ugly, they’ve been a little better lately. The Bengals haven’t given up 30 points or more in their last six games. That may seem like the bar is low for them. However, if they can hold the Steelers under 30 points, it gives Cincinnati a good chance to stay within two touchdowns and beat the spread.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel is actually coming off his best performance since taking over for the injured Andy Dalton. He’s probably not going to put up big numbers, but Driskel has thrown six touchdowns to just two interceptions over the last five games. If he can continue to avoid mistakes, the Bengals will have a chance to put some points on the board and avoid handing the Steelers favorable field position and easy points.
Keep in mind that Cincinnati’s running game is their biggest strength offensively. Joe Mixon continues to be a productive running back, averaging at least four yards per carry in seven of his last eight games. The Pittsburgh defense has been solid against the run for most of the season. However, they’ve been far from dominant, so I can see them having a hard time containing Mixon.
Admittedly, there’s a chance that the Steelers turn this into a blowout and cover the spread. However, it’s hard to trust this team after the way they’ve performed over the last six weeks. As bad as the Bengals have been this year, only three of their nine losses would have covered the spread for this game. I think they’ll be motivated in this game and keep it within two touchdowns to beat the spread.