Thursday Night Special

Pittsburgh, PA - With just three days between games, the Pittsburgh Steelers won't have a lot of practice time to get ready for the Cincinnati Bengals this week.

Ben Roethlisberger figures to take advantage of every snap he can get.

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A week of practice seemed to serve Roethlisberger well in the Steelers' latest win, and the banged-up quarterback will look to help Pittsburgh increase its AFC North lead - instead of falling into another funk - Thursday night at Heinz Field against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made the Steelers –10.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 54% of bets for this game have been placed on the Steelers –10.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Roethlisberger looked like he was going to build off his 2007 Pro Bowl season at the start of 2008. He threw nine touchdown passes and only three interceptions in his first six games, leading the Steelers (7-3) to five wins and a two-game lead in the division. He was at his best at Jacksonville and Cincinnati to open October, throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns in a comeback victory over the Jaguars before tossing for two scores in a 38-10 blowout of the Bengals.

Over the next three games, though, Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh faltered. The Steelers lost two of three as Roethlisberger threw for one touchdown and eight interceptions, sparking some debate that the Super Bowl-winning signal caller should be benched as he appeared to be hindered by a partially separated shoulder.

But after regularly missing practice to rest the shoulder during the week, Roethlisberger was in pads leading up to Pittsburgh's game against San Diego, and those reps seemed to make a difference Sunday. He didn't throw a touchdown pass, but went 31-for-41 for 308 yards without committing a turnover, and led the game-winning drive in the final minutes of the Steelers' 11-10 victory.

"It was time for me to do it," Roethlisberger said. "I don't like to say it's time for us to do it because some of these guys have been doing it all year. It was time for me to step up and make some plays."

Roethlisberger has done plenty against the Bengals (1-8-1) in Cincinnati, where he's thrown 11 touchdowns and three interceptions while going 6-0. At home, though, he's often struggled and so has Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger has been picked off eight times as the Steelers have lost two of three to the Bengals at Heinz Field.

He threw two interceptions in Pittsburgh's 24-10 home win over Cincinnati last season, but also tossed a pair of touchdowns to Hines Ward.

Ward has had back-to-back 100-yard games, though he has no touchdown catches since the Steelers' win in Cincinnati on Oct. 19. He made news for a different reason that day, however, breaking Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers' jaw with a jarring block that knocked the rookie out for the season.

Rivers vowed to get revenge for the hit, though that will have to wait until next season. Brandon Johnson, who took Rivers' spot at linebacker, disputed the notion that the play was dirty.

"It was a good block. If I was in Hines Ward's shoes, I probably would have taken the same shot," Johnson told the Bengals' official Web site. "You really can't blame him."

That ugly loss was Cincinnati's seventh straight to start the season, and it followed that by falling 35-6 at Houston the following week. But the Bengals haven't lost since. They beat Jacksonville 21-19 for their first win, and following a bye week, they were involved in the NFL's first tie in more than six years - 13-13 against Philadelphia.

The Steelers and the Falcons finished 34-34 on Nov. 10, 2002, the league's most recent tie prior to last Sunday.

"I don't know if you pat yourself on the back or be mad," Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker said. "We came out here, played our hearts out and we didn't lose, so we'll just take it at that and strive to do better this Thursday night."

Cincinnati's improvement has coincided with the play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who's started six games for the injured Carson Palmer. Fitzpatrick's last two games were his best - he threw two touchdown passes against Jacksonville, then went 29-for-44 for a season-high 261 yards and a score against the Eagles.

Fitzpatrick wasn't bad in his first start against Pittsburgh, going 21-for-35 for 164 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked seven times. He was dropped eight times against the Eagles, whose 36 sacks tie the Steelers for the league lead.

Given Pittsburgh's top-ranked overall defense - which is also No. 1 against the pass - Fitzpatrick knows he has his work cut out for him.

"They try to make you uncomfortable back there," he said. "And with their rush, and how hard they come sometimes, it's uncomfortable. You've just got to make decisions and get the ball out."

Fitzpatrick's job will be easier thanks to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who leads the NFL with 73 receptions. Houshmandzadeh has four touchdown catches in his last three games in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have dropped three of five overall against Cincinnati at Heinz Field.

Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 21-12 against the spread versus CINCINNATI since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 25-9 straight up against CINCINNATI since 1992
17 of 33 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
PITTSBURGH is 4-1 against the spread versus CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons 
PITTSBURGH is 4-1 straight up against CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons 
3 of 5 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at PITTSBURGH since 1992
CINCINNATI is 8-7 against the spread versus PITTSBURGH since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 10-6 straight up against CINCINNATI since 1992
8 of 16 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at PITTSBURGH over the last 3 seasons.
PITTSBURGH is 1-1 against the spread versus CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons 
PITTSBURGH is 1-1 straight up against CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons 
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
(!) [QB] Carson Palmer out for the season - Elbow - 10/24/08
[RB] Jeremi Johnson IR - Knee - 09/04/08
[LB] Darryl Blackstock has been suspended by the NFL for 4 games. - Suspension - 10/07/08
[S] Dexter Jackson IR - Thumb - 10/30/08
[C] Kyle Cook IR - Toe - 10/18/08
[RB] DeDe Dorsey IR - Hamstring - 09/30/08
[CB] Corey Lynch IR - Knee - 10/27/08
[LB] Keith Rivers IR - Jaw - 10/19/08
[WR] Jerome Simpson missed last game, "?" - Ankle - 11/02/08
[WR] Andre Caldwell expected to miss at least 4 weeks - Stress Fracture - 10/21/08
[FS] Ryan Clark missed last game, upgraded to probable. - Shoulder - 11/04/08
[CB] Bryant McFadden is expected to miss next 4-6 weeks. - Forearm - 10/20/08
[TE] Heath Miller injured last game, downgraded to doubtful. - Ankle - 11/04/08
[LB] LaMarr Woodley is upgraded to probable. - Calf - 11/07/08
[P] Daniel Sepulveda IR - Knee - 07/30/08
[OL] Greg Warren IR - Leg - 10/28/08
(!) [RB] Willie Parker is downgraded to expected to miss - Shoulder - 11/06/08
[LB] Keyaron Fox missed last game, upgraded to probable. - Hamstring - 11/04/08
[RB] Najeh Davenport is "?". - Hamstring - 11/04/08
[P] Mitch Berger has been released. - Hamstring - 11/04/08
[OT] Marvel Smith missed last game, "?". - Back - 11/03/08
[OG] Kendall Simmons IR - Achilles - 09/30/08
[WR] Hines Ward is upgraded to probable - Shoulder - 11/07/08
[DT] Casey Hampton is "?". - Toe - 11/04/08
[QB] Charlie Batch IR - Collarbone - 08/30/08
(!) [QB] Ben Roethlisberger injured last game, "?". - Shoulder - 11/03/08
[SS] Tyrone Carter is "?". - Ankle - 11/04/08
[RB] Rashard Mendenhall IR - Shoulder - 09/30/08

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Posted: 11/18/08 9:36 PM ET

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