When the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals tonight they have a lot to play for. First, after back-to-back losses for the last team to fall from the unbeaten ranks, the Steelers want to regain their swagger with just a few weeks before the National Football League opens their expanded playoff schedule.
Second, while their losses the last two weeks, against the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills, have knocked them out of the top spot and the only AFC bye, they still have a shot at recapturing that postseason bye if the 13-1 Kansas City Chiefs get tripped up in at least one of their two remaining games. The Chiefs have the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Chargers left on their regular season schedule.
Now, having something to play for, and meeting an opponent with nothing left to do except mess up your postseason plans, is not always an enviable spot.
The team with nothing to play for, read that as the Bengals tonight, can play loose and without the fear of failure. Often, the team with that mindset is lethal to a squad needing a win.
But, there are a couple factors tonight that don’t indicate the Bengals have the horses to upend the Steelers plans for a road triumph. First, while the Bengals were competitive and even exciting with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow running their offense, they had won only two games while he was behind center.
Since he got hurt last month, Cincinnati has not even been competitive in their losses. When you lose at home to the Dallas Cowboys, 30-7, you can be pretty sure you are not a quality team. Last Sunday, that was the score when the Cowboys rode into Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals now meet a Steelers squad that has been as impressive as any team in the league for most of this season, and Pittsburgh is looking to end a two game losing skid. The Bengals do not appear capable of stopping the Steelers from winning their 12th game.
But, we must remember history shows us, as recently as yesterday, anything is possible. Read that as the Jets downing the Rams on their home field.
So, bet on the Steelers tonight and expect a romp?
Well, laying two touchdowns in the NFL is by nature a dicey proposition. Since 2000, 16 times NFL home teams have gotten 14 or 14½ points on the spread. In those games, the road favorite has won 14 times, but against the spread, that advantage shifts to the home team with a 10-5-1 winning record against the line.
In other words, expecting a 14 point home underdog to win is possible but not probable, while laying that many points on the road is the short straw. How about when a team has lost two straight games and is favored by two touchdowns away from home?
Well, teams giving that many points on the road after two losses has only happened twice this century, and the visiting team has won the game both times and covered the spread in both contests.
So, yep, a slight statistical advantage for the home team tonight with the points, but not enough to back with cash.