Only two National Football League teams, the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns, have gone winless in a 16 game regular season. There have been a lot of real bad teams in NFL history, but only those two have failed to get at least one win during a 16 game campaign.
Bad teams can win for a variety of reasons.
First, these are professionals, a collection of the top college talent, and most teams, no matter how bad, have enough talent to pick up a win or more during the course of a season. Second, opponents sometimes open the door for bad teams to win based on overconfidence.
Last week, the Oakland Raiders were coming off a season high accomplishment when a sold out primetime crowd at the Coliseum saw their beloved team play their last night game in Oakland and beat their long time rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers. The victory included a late touchdown drive that resulted in a winning touchdown with only 1:02 left in the game.
The love affair between their fans and the Raiders was in full force that night, their impending move to Las Vegas seemingly pushed to the background as the fans cheered the dramatic win.
That victory left the Raiders a sitting duck last week, and as a double-digit favorite, Oakland eked out a narrow victory, 17-10, over the winless Bengals.
There is another predictable way a bad team can get their first win. It can happen when a division foe that blew them out in their first meeting of the season is expecting another easy triumph in the season’s second contest.
That is what we have this week when the Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers are only a shell of the team Mike Tomlin has led in recent seasons. Since 2004, the Steelers have been led by future Hall of Fame Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He led an offense spearheaded by a couple of the league’s most explosive offensive weapons, runningback Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.
This trio led the Steelers to the playoffs four straight seasons before Bell sat out the 2018 season and the Steelers missed postseason action. Bell left the Steelers for the New York Jets this year, and while Brown was signed through the 2021 season, he too was let go when his behavior other than catching footballs was determined detrimental to the team.
Then, in second week competition this season, Roethlisberger was knocked out of acton for the season with an elbow injury.
How did Pittsburgh do without their primary offensive weapons?
When they met the Bengals in fourth week action both teams were looking for their initial win. The Steelers got it when the two teams closed out the week’s action in a Monday Night Football contest, 27-3. That win started a streak that saw Pittsburgh win five of their next six games, which got them surprisingly back into the playoff hunt in the AFC North Division.
The Steelers unexpected playoff hopes took a shot to the ribs last week when the Cleveland Browns dominated their first 2019 meeting with a Thursday night victory, 21-7. Now, off that defeat, Pittsburgh meets the Bengals for their second regular season matchup.
What we have here is a Bengals team still looking for their first win, and a Steelers team buoyed by five wins in seven games.
Despite their unlikely recent success, the Steelers are still no more than an average team that overachieved on sacks and turnovers during their win streak. Backup quarterback Mason Rudolph, who replaced the injured Roethlisberger, is as reliable as a car with a weak battery on an ice cold morning.
The Bengals are not good enough to win too often this year, but not bad enough to join the Lions and Browns as 16 game losers. The first Bengals win of 2019 is perfectly set up to be this Sunday, and of course one will get a generous point spread for the courage to bet on Cincinnati.
Qoxhi Picks: Cincinnati Bengals (+6½) over Pittsburgh Steelers