AFC North Battle
Cincinnati, OH - A last-minute road win heading into their bye week put the Pittsburgh Steelers in a good mood and allowed coach Mike Tomlin's banged-up team some time to get healthy.
A trip to Cincinnati should make them feel even better.
Hoping to have three key starters back, the Steelers will look for their eighth consecutive win at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday against the winless Bengals.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Steelers –9.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 50% of bets for this game have been placed on Steelers –9.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Pittsburgh (4-1) went into Jacksonville on Oct. 5 missing running back Willie Parker and defensive linemen Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel, but came away with a 26-21 win to take a two-game lead in the AFC North.
Ben Roethlisberger, nursing a partially separated shoulder, threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns, and said the Steelers' bye week couldn't have come at a more opportune time.
"It's a good time this week, not just for me, but for a lot of the guys," Roethlisberger said. "A lot of guys got beat up (in Jacksonville), but we kind of knew that was going to happen."
Pittsburgh will get Keisel back against Cincinnati (0-6), and Hampton, a four-time Pro Bower, may return as well. The bye also gave kicker Jeff Reed, who had a groin problem late in the Jaguars' game, a chance to rest, and he should play Sunday.
Perhaps the Steelers' biggest addition would be Parker, and it appeared he'd return after missing the past two games with an MCL sprain. But Parker aggravated the injury in practice on Monday, and his return is now questionable.
"We're going to take it day by day,'' Parker said Wednesday.
If Parker can't go, Mewelde Moore will get his second straight start in Pittsburgh's backfield.
The Bengals certainly wouldn't miss facing Parker. In three career regular-season games in Cincinnati, he's averaging 130.3 yards per game on the ground and has four touchdowns.
All three of those games have been Steeler victories, and including the postseason, Pittsburgh has won seven straight at Paul Brown Stadium dating to Oct. 13, 2002.
"I want to end that streak very badly," said Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis, a former Steelers assistant.
Right now, the Bengals' focus is on beating anyone. Cincinnati is winless after six games for the third time since 2000, though it's nowhere near the worst start in franchise history. The Bengals started 0-10 in 1993.
Since 1991, a team has opened the season with six consecutive losses 21 times. The Bengals have six of those while no other team has more than two.
"Everybody wants to win, and I'm sorry (the fans) are disappointed,'' Lewis said. "So am I. But unfortunately, that's where we are right now. But hang on. They could see something special here.''
What Bengals fans definitely won't see Sunday is their starting quarterback. Carson Palmer has missed two games, including the Bengals' 26-14 loss to the New York Jets last Sunday with an inflamed elbow.
That means Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his third start, and neither of the first two have been impressive. Fitzpatrick has completed 60.3 percent of his passes for an average of 154 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
But after turning the ball over four times in a 20-12 loss to Cleveland on Sept. 28, Fitzpatrick fumbled once and didn't throw an interception against the Jets.
"Being smart with the football is the No. 1 goal for me right now," Fitzpatrick said. "Now there needs to be more consistency with the offense in general. Big plays, too."
The task won't be easy for Fitzpatrick against the Steelers. Pittsburgh has the league's second-ranked total defense, allowing just 231.6 ypg, and has sacked the quarterback 18 times to tie for second in the NFL.
Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have 12 combined sacks, the most of any duo in the league.
The Bengals are last in the league in total offense (227.8 ypg), and the Steelers rank 26th with 283.6 ypg.
Roethlisberger hasn't played particularly well against the Bengals in Pittsburgh, but he's thrived against them in Cincinnati. Including the Steelers' 2006 wild card win, Roethlisberger has completed 70.4 percent of his passes and has thrown nine touchdowns against three interceptions in five career games there.
An Ohio native, Roethlisberger is also carrying an impressive winning streak in his home state. He's won all 10 career NFL starts in the Buckeye state, and has won 18 straight in Ohio dating back to 2002, his senior season at Miami University.
The Steelers are 10-9 all-time following a bye week, but have lost their last two after a week off.
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 20-12 against the spread versus CINCINNATI since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 24-9 straight up against CINCINNATI since 1992
16 of 32 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
PITTSBURGH is 3-1 against the spread versus CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons
PITTSBURGH is 3-1 straight up against CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons
3 of 4 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at CINCINNATI since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 13-4 against the spread versus CINCINNATI since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 14-3 straight up against CINCINNATI since 1992
8 of 16 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons.
PITTSBURGH is 2-0 against the spread versus CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons
PITTSBURGH is 2-0 straight up against CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons
2 of 2 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[WR] Dallas Baker injured last game, "?" - Shoulder - 10/06/08
[RB] Rashard Mendenhall IR - Shoulder - 09/30/08
[OG] Kendall Simmons IR - Achilles - 09/30/08
[DT] Casey Hampton missed last game %27?%27 - Groin - 10/05/08
[K] Jeff Reed injured last game, probable - Calf - 10/07/08
[QB] Charlie Batch IR - Collarbone - 08/30/08
[RB] Carey Davis missed last game %27?%27 - Ankle - 10/05/08
[DE] Brett Keisel is "?" - Calf - 10/08/08
(!) [RB] Willie Parker missed last game probable - Knee - 10/05/08
[LB] Andre Frazier missed last game %27?%27 - Cervical Strain - 10/05/08
[P] Daniel Sepulveda IR - Knee - 07/30/08
[DE] Nick Eason missed last game %27?%27 - Groin - 10/05/08
[RB] DeDe Dorsey IR - Hamstring - 09/30/08
[LB] Corey Mays missed last game %27?%27 - Ankle - 10/05/08
(!) [QB] Carson Palmer is probable - Elbow - 10/08/08
[RB] Jeremi Johnson IR - Knee - 09/04/08
[WR] Glenn Holt injured last game %27?%27 - Head - 10/05/08
[LB] Darryl Blackstock has been suspended by the NFL for 4 games - Suspension - 10/07/08
[SS] Dexter Jackson missed last game %27?%27 - Thumb - 10/05/08
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Posted: 10/16/08 2:00 PM