Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
Tuesday, 01:15 GMT
Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Channel 5
Smith-Schuster can rise to Bengals challenge
Before each game this season Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has made a habit of dancing at centre-field and posting it to his TikTok account. Last week the Buffalo Bills took exception to this and, following their victory, made a point of referencing the dance and how it motivated them to victory; this week Bengals safety Vonn Bell has gone a step further.
Cincinnati's leading tackler said the dances were disrespectful, adding: "You have to go out there and hit him, let him know where he stands." Smith-Schuster, in his fourth year with the Steelers, is no stranger to confrontation with the Bengals and will likely take note of the comments. The problem for Cincinnati is that he is likely to make them pay for it.
Since being drafted in 2017, Smith Schuster has been a prominent member of the Steelers receiving corps, making 290 catches for 3,550 yards and scoring 24 touchdowns. In 2020, he has already matched his career high for touchdown catches, finding the endzone seven times, with one of those coming against the Cincinnati Bengals in a 36-10 Pittsburgh victory back in Week 10. With Pittsburgh desperate to end their losing streak, they will be looking for another similar output on Monday night.
The Steelers started the season 11-0 but have lost their last two games as their offence has become tremendously unbalanced. The running game has almost totally fallen apart, picking up just 45 yards per game in December, meaning that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has become all the more reliant on Smith-Schuster and the rest of the receivers. With that in mind I'm backing the 24-year-old to score for the eighth time this season at 7/5.
Steelers can terrorise Bengals' Finley
Last time the Steelers faced the Bengals they had to deal with first overall pick Joe Burrow at quarterback, a task they managed with relative ease. Unfortunately, since then Burrow's season was ended by a knee injury and Cincinnati's season has ground to a halt. Ryan Finley will be under centre tonight and he will be facing one of the best defences in the NFL.
Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick alone has forced five turnovers (four interceptions, one fumble recovery) while his defensive teammates have added another 20 takeaways themselves. The defensive front, headlined by T.J. Watt, are equally as talented and their 45 sacks lead the league, so all in all it looks scheduled to be a difficult day for Finley to make his first start of the season.
Watt is chasing down sacks leader Aaron Donald and facing a Cincinnati offensive line who have allowed a total of eight sacks across their last two games he'll fancy his chances of another dominant day.
Finley's NFL career consists of just 11 appearances and he has managed to throw three times as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (two) in those fleeting appearances. With Pittsburgh chasing their 12th win of the season against a team with nothing to play for, and on their third QB of 2020, Pittsburgh's D/ST to score a touchdown in a comfortable victory looks like good value.
Higgins has a chance for beleaguered Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals are 2-10-1 this season and come in to tonight's game without their starting quarterback and running back Joe Mixon. But their receivers have at least provided a minor bright spot since the Bengals stars got injured.
In the three games since Burrow's injury, Cincinnati have scored just four touchdowns but three of them have been passes to wide-receivers. Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green have all found the endzone, despite the poor quarterback play behind them, showing an impressive ability to make plays themselves.
The most consistent of the group is rookie Tee Higgins who, pleasingly for Bengals fans, seems to have adapted to life in the NFL with relative ease. The former Clemson receiver came in to the league having spent the last few years catching passes from presumptive 2021 first overall pick Trevor Lawrence. He formed an instant rapport with 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow and, in recent weeks, has become the focal point of the offence.
Higgins has caught five passes in each of the last three games, taking his season total to 58, as his 6ft 4 frame makes him the perfect safety net for whoever is playing quarterback. The 21-year-old may well be one of the few Bengals happy to see the Steelers on the schedule. In week 10, Higgins had seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, a yardage total bettered by only two other receivers against the "Steel Curtain" this season.
Further fuel to the fire for Cincinnati's passing game-plan will be the total dominance Pittsburgh have shown against the run in 2020. Mike Tomlin's defence are top 10 in the NFL in yards allowed, yards per carry, touchdowns allowed and fumbles forced as Watt supported by Cameron Heyward and Vince Williams have shutdown the run with incredible effect.
I'm backing Higgins to score his second touchdown against Pittsburgh this season in an otherwise disappointing outing for Zac Taylor's Bengals side.