The AFC North produced two playoff teams in the division winning Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite playing in Cincinnati, the point spread is favoring the Steelers at -2.5 heading into Wild Card Sunday. This could have to do with the Bengals penchant for losing in the first round of the playoffs several years in a row, but most likely has roots in Andy Dalton missing yet another game due to a broken thumb.
2015/16 NFL Playoffs: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Point Spread: Steelers -2.5 Over/under: 46 Date: Saturday, January 9, 8:15pm ET Location: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
With a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown putting up the third best season by a receiver in league history, Pittsburgh’s offense should not be taken lightly by any opponent. The -2.5 favored Steelers are averaging 26 points per game and look unstoppable at times. This week may be different as DeAngelo Williams is questionable to play after an ankle injury in Week 17. Pittsburgh may be forced to forsake offensive balance and air it out should Williams be sidelined.
Defensively, the Steelers have struggled to maintain the grit that they’re known for. Particularly susceptible through the air, Pittsburgh can take some comfort in facing A.J. McCarron instead of Dalton. More importantly, they’ll need to find a way to keep A.J. Green in check or things could get out of hand quickly. If the secondary underperforms, this game could end up in a shootout.
All year, the +2.5 underdog Bengals have managed to bend but not break, giving up ample yardage but not points, allowing just 17 points per game. They face an equally tough challenge in trying to contain Brown, which starts with the pass rush. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap have a combined 23.5 sacks heading into the playoffs and need to make Roethlisberger uncomfortable in the pocket if they hope to slow down one of the league’s best offenses.
Cincinnati is 0-6 in their last six playoff appearances, losing each game in the Wild Card round. It will take a herculean effort by McCarron to break the Bengals’ playoff curse, but it’s not impossible. With a solid running game that’s averaging 112 yards per game with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard, the pressure is somewhat off of McCarron to carry the team. If they can find a nice balance between the ground and air game, they could keep pace with the Steelers nicely.
Playoff Wild Card Prediction
This game has the makings of a face-paced, high-scoring affair where the last team that scores wins. Both teams feature two of the league’s best receivers, but one team has a better quarterback with enough playoff experience and two Super Bowl rings to pull off the road win. The Bengals’ Wild Card curse continues.