Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals: Back Cincy to finally get past wildcard weekend

AJ McCarron is looking to break the Marvin Lewis/Cincinnati playoff jinx
AJ McCarron is looking to break the Marvin Lewis/Cincinnati playoff jinx

The Cincinnati Bengals have been the ultimate one and done team in the playoffs in recent years. Yet Neil Monnery thinks they'll come through QB adversity to break that duck in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"The weather forecast currently calls for heavy rain (but a light wind) on Saturday night for this game and that plays into the Bengals hands. This game will be won and lost in the trenches. I'll take the Bengals lines over the Steelers any day of the week."

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
Start-time: Sunday 01:15
TV: Live on Sky Sports

What most people see as the most competitive game of wildcard weekend gets the prime time TV slot but it comes with a huge sense of trepidation for the NFL punter. This isn't down to an inability to read the game but due to injury doubts for big players on both teams.

Andy Dalton is still recovering from a broken thumb but can he do a Peyton Manning and be ready to come off the bench to help for Cincinnati? On the opposite sideline, the Steelers will be severely depleted if DeAngelo Williams can't go and as of the time of writing on Thursday afternoon, he is still sporting a walking boot. That is not a good sign at all.

So we're going to assume at this point that neither starts. This means AJ McCarron will get the start at QB for the Bengals. One thing we can't say about the inexperienced McCarron is that he doesn't know how to handle the bright lights.

ETA Friday PM: Both Dalton and Williams have been officially ruled out by their respective head coaches.

He led Alabama to back-to-back national titles. So he has played in front of rabid crowds and a gigantic TV audience. I don't see him being phased one jot by starting a playoff game. The last time a QB with three or fewer starts in the NFL won a knock-out game in the NFL was 1979. So history is not on his side but I was impressed with how he performed at Denver a couple of Mondays ago.

He does though have real weapons. We all know about how great Antonio Brown is for Pittsburgh but AJ Green is at worst, 95% of the player he is. If the second-year QB is ever in trouble and sees #18 one-on-one on the outside, then expect him to just throw it up and look for his star receiver to make a play. The likes of Marvin Jones and in particular Tyler Eifert are good secondary targets.

In the backfield they have a two-headed running attack of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Neither are exceptional but both can get the job done. On D they have the likes of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins who both recorded double digit sacks this season. They get after the opposition quarterback and have great motors. All around the Bengals are a good, well-coached and fundamentally solid football team.

The Steelers though are scary. Not because they have a defense of note but what they do have is a quick strike offense. Big Ben is an experienced, two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, one who it is hard to ever bet against.

One thing though that shouldn't be overlooked is that he has thrown two interceptions in each of his last three games. Two at Denver (which is fine, Denver are a great D) but then two each in games against Baltimore and Cleveland, that is a concern. They lost at Baltimore and they had no business losing that game, worse still they didn't pull away until late on against the joke that is the Cleveland Browns. His total TD to Int ratio this season is 21:16. I have concerns.

One area where I don't have any concerns is the receiving corps. Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are superb secondary receivers. Heath Miller might be the best safety-net over the middle in the league not named Jason Witten and then of course there is Antonio Brown.

Look at his numbers and your jaw will hit the ground. Nine times out of 16 this season he has gone for over 100 yards. Four of those were north of 150. He is a stud and it would be hard to argue that he isn't the best in that position playing in the game today (although I could make a good case for Julio Jones as well)

If DeAngelo Williams is unable to go though in the backfield then Fitzgerald Toussaint will be the featured back and that would fill me with dread if I were a Steelers fan. I know he's only had 18 carries this season but a long of seven and an average of 2.3 yards/attempt is nothing worth writing home about. If he's the starting running back then we know they will not be displaying a balanced offense and the defensive backs and linebackers will not creep up cheating the run. They'll be able to play pure pass defense for large chunks of the game.

The weather forecast currently calls for heavy rain (but a light wind) on Saturday night for this game and that plays into Cincinnati's hands. This game will be won and lost in the trenches. I'll take the Bengals lines over the Steelers any day of the week. I have rolled with backing the underdog far more than the favourite this season and I'm not going against that mantra here.

Lots of logic says that the Steelers win this game and if they do, I think they are extremely scary for both the Broncos and Patriots down the line, but the Bengals have to win a playoff game under Marvin Lewis sometime and why not the time everyone expects them to lose without their starting QB? Bengals to win straight up at 2.3411/8 is my match pick.

For secondary bets I am rolling with the over 48.5 on the extended spread. This is mainly because in the heavy rain, we may see lots of turnovers giving teams good starting position. This is available at 5/4 on the Sportsbook. I really want a small play on either defense to score the first TD but neither are available at this juncture so I'm going with Tyler Eifert (10/1) for the Bengals and what about Darrius Heyward-Bey (25/1) for the Steelers as Big Ben may try to make use of the speedster with an early quick strike, they are very generous odds.

Recommended Bets
3pt Back Cincinnati to win straight up @ 2.3411/8 in the Exchange
3pt Back over 48.5 total points at 5/4 on the Sportsbook
1pt Back Tyler Eifert to score the first touchdown at 10/1 on the Sportsbook
1pt Back Darrius Heyward-Bey to score the first touchdown at 25/1 on the Sportsbook

Neil Monnery NFL P/L 2015 Season

Staked - 203pts
Returned - 277.44pts
P&L - +74.44pts

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