2016 NFL Wild Card Pick- Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4), who finished second in the AFC North and earned a wild card berth, play the Cincinnati Bengals (12-4), who finished at the top of that same division. The game, which will be played on Saturday, January 9 at 8:15 pm, promises to be a good one. The line opened with Pittsburgh at -2.5 and it has since moved to -3.0 for the Steelers. The over/under is at 45.5 at this point, which is down from where it opened at 46.5.

2015 Season

Pittsburgh started their season on rocky ground, losing a game to the Patriots that they should have won as they missed important field goals and squandered numerous scoring chances. They went through much of the season winning two and losing one. Their longest winning streak occurred in the second-half of the season when they beat the Colts 45-10, Bengals 33-20, and Broncos 34-27. Previous to that run, they had lost to Cincinnati 16-10. Their last loss came two weeks ago, as the Ravens beat them 20-17. Pittsburgh secured the final wild card spot in the AFC when they managed a win over Cleveland 28-12 and the Jets lost to the Bills.

The Bengals have had a very successful year. They started the 2015 NFL season with eight wins. Then posted losses to Houston 10-6 and Arizona 34-31. In their last four games, they were 4-2. Those two losses were big because they were both to playoff teams- Pittsburgh 33-20 and Denver 20-17. The Bengals final game was a 24-16 win against the Ravens.

Pittsburgh Stats to Consider

Hampered by injuries, a week frontline, and errant passing, Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger has had an uneven season. Although he’s been good on 68% of his passes and has 21 touchdown throws, Roethlisberger has also tossed 16 interceptions. He’s been sacked 20 times.

The Steeler offense will be hamstrung by the loss of startimg running back DeAngelo Williams. This season, Williams had 200 rushes for 907 ground yards and 11 scores. He averaged 4.5 YPA. Also out is Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell. He was averaging 4.9 YPA.

That puts a lot of pressure on three Steeler wideouts, Antonio Brown (136 REC, 13.5 AVG, 10 TDs), Martavis Bryant (50 REC, 15.3 AVG, 6 TDs), and Markus Wheaton (44 REC, 17.0 AVG, 5 TDs). These guys are stellar and should get a lot of work on Saturday.

The Steeler defense has been overall sound. They’ve notched 48 sacks, 17 interceptions, and 16 forced fumbles with 13 recovered. It’s hard to pick a standout in this group, which has managed to limit teams to 19.9 PPG (11th in the NFL).

Cincinnati Stats to Consider

The Bengals have a few factors in their favor. The first is quarterback A.J. McCarron. In taking over for the injured Andy Dalton, he has performed well overall, completing 66% of his passes, tossing six touchdowns, and throwing two interceptions. He’s been sacked 12 times. McCarron’s rating is 97.1. His go-to receivers are reliable and fast. Look for him to connect with WR A.J. Green (86 REC, 15.1 AVG, 10 TDs) and TE Tyler Eifert (52 REC, 11.8 AVG, 13 TDs).

The other very important part of the Bengal offense is RB Jeremy Hill. Hill is averaging 3.6 YPA and has 10 touchdowns and 19 rushes of 20-plus yards. But he has fumbled three times and lost the ball each time. That could be a problem on Saturday.

Also worth mentioning is the Bengal defense, which has 42 sacks, 21 interceptions, and 83 passes defended. Key players include DE Carlos Dunlap (13.5 Sacks, 2 FF), DT Geno Atkins (11 Sacks, 1 FF), and DT Michael Johnson (5 Sacks, 3 FF). The secondary is swarming with pick artists; Reggie Nelson leads the group with eight interceptions.

Playoff Factors

The Bengal defense has limited teams to 17.4 PPG, which is second in the league. With half of Pittsburg’s offense compromised and Cincinnati’s top-notch blitz and secondary, the Steelers will have a tough time putting points on the board. Steeler placekickers Josh Scobee and the man who replaced him, Chris Bowell, have both missed 30% or more of their field goal attempts from 40-49 yards.

Our Pick

We are going with the Bengals in this game. The loss of Williams is a major blow for the Steelers. Plus, although both teams bring good defenses to the field, we feel that with their running game crippled, Roethlisberger will be more susceptible to the sack and pick. It’s also important to note that Bengal QB McCarron won’t have to carry the club on his shoulders, as Cincinnati’s rush attack will help to keep the Steeler defense honest. Along with betting the Bengals go with the under.