Somehow, Week 12 is already upon us. And while so much football has already been played, the AFC playoff picture is still fuzzy.
There are 12 teams in the AFC that have won five games and all of them are still alive in the wild-card and divisional races.
That includes both the Steelers and the Bengals.
At 6-4, following a win over the Raiders, the Bengals are one game back in the AFC North and in the top wild-card spot (with tie-breakers). Meanwhile, at 5-4-1 and following a loss to the Chargers, the Steelers are a game back of the Bills for the final wild-card spot.
Therefore, this divisional battle has major playoff implications, and both teams desperately need a win. Especially considering all four AFC North teams have a record in-between 7-3 and 6-5.
Steelers vs Bengals Prediction
Overall, the Bengals have a stronger résumé than the Steelers. The eye test largely backs that up, as the Steelers are incredibly weak on offense.
The Steelers rank 23rd in Football Outsiders offensive DVOA. Pittsburgh has all the weapons necessary to be an elite offensive unit, but Ben Roethlisberger continually holds the team back. Out of 37 quarterbacks that have dropped back at least 100 times this season, Roethlisberger grades out as PFF’s third-worst (ahead of only Trevor Lawrence and Mike White).
However, the ground game hasn’t developed as expected in Pittsburgh, either. Behind an offensive line that ranks 29th in Line Yards, star back Najee Harris has averaged only 3.6 yards per carry this season.
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The Steelers’ defense is tough, but they’re also banged up. Joe Haden and TJ Watt are still expected to be out this week, but make sure you check the injury list before kickoff.
While Pittsburgh’s defense can stand up to Cincinnati’s offense, the Bengals are simply a more well-rounded team. The Bengals are also led by Joe Burrow, PFF’s seventh-best quarterback, and Joe Mixon, who’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
The Bengals win this home game.
Prediction: Bengals 23, Steelers 20
Steelers vs Bengals Best Bets
Best Bet: Steelers +4.5 (-110) at Caesars
Wager: 0.5 Units
Despite my confidence that the Bengals win this game, the Steelers are an auto-bet when they’re catching points.
Mike Tomlin is King Underdog. As an underdog, Tomlin is the most profitable coach against the spread (ATS) in the NFL, going 42-20-2 ATS in those situations for a 32.1% ROI. Sean Payton is the next best (45-26-2 ATS, 24.4% ROI).
Moreover, Tomlin is 30-17 ATS as a road underdog, and the Roethlisberger-Tomlin tandem loves playing in Cincinnati. With Big Ben under center, the Steelers are 12-4 ATS when playing in Cincy.
Last week, the Steelers were catching six points against the Chargers and miraculously covered despite being the infinitely worse team. Expect more of the same this week.
Best Bet: Under 45 (-110) at Caesars
Wager: 0.5 Units
As mentioned, the Steelers are a terrible offense. However, the Bengals are right behind them in offensive DVOA, ranking 23rd, so I don’t believe many points will be scored in this game. This game is shaping up to be a rock fight between two divisional rivals fighting for the division title.
That scenario isn’t new to the NFL. In Week 11 or later and since 2005, divisional games are 216-138-5 to the Under, hitting at a 61% clip.
I’m willing to back that trend and look for these two defenses to overpower their inferior offensive counterparts.
Tanner McGrath’s 2021 NFL Betting Record: 13-13, -1.00 Units
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