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Steelers-Bengals pregame stretch

November 12, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS

Announcers: Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts

Annoyance factor: This is the CBS #3 team but it’s really the #1 team because the other two teams (Nantz and Simms; Gumbel and Dierdorf) are there based on reputation rather than performance.

Referee: Bill Leavy

Competence factor: Leavy and his crew are back after a relatively harmless appearance in Week 2’s blowout of the Seahawks. However, Leavy himself has been involved in a number of questionable illegal hit penalties since then. Of course, the Steelers are dealing with another questionable hit brouhaha after the NFL fined Ryan Clark and unfathomable $40,000 for his hit on Ed Dickson last week.

The line: Pittsburgh -4

Smarts say: We don’t get it. This line means the Steelers would be 7-point favorites on an neutral field and a double-digit favorite at home? Those bookies are watching a different NFL than we are. On top of that, the professional bettors who participate in the Las Vegas Hilton Supercontest made the Steelers their overwhelming #1 pick this week. These gamblers are watching a different NFL than we are. The over/under of 41.5 equates to 23-19 Steelers.

Stat geeks say: Brian Burke over at the Advanced NFL Stats web site (link at right) says if this game were played 100 times, the Steelers would win in 66 of them. And in a fascinating read, he notes the numbers say Pittsburgh has the easiest remaining schedule of any NFL team and adds that a win in Cincinnati would give the Steelers a 96 percent likelihood of making the playoffs. Big game.

Key matchup: James Harrison, Steelers OLB vs. Andrew Whitworth, Bengals LT

Because: With LaMarr Woodley sidelined again with a hamstring injury, Harrison becomes the Steelers only front seven player with the ability to apply consistent pressure. Whitworth has handled Harrison in the past. If he does it again Sunday, the Steelers will have to resort to risky safety and corner blitzes to pressure rookie Andy Dalton, who’s been unflappable so far in the pocket.

The pick: We think most people (see above) are following the "the Bengals haven't played anyone good" logic in forecasting this game. And that's true, BUT the Steelers haven't beaten a physical team and the Bengals (especially with Ray Maualuga returning) fit that bill. If the Steelers find a way to make Dalton uncomfortable, they'll win this game, but we don't see that happening with the personnel they'll be putting on the field … Bengals 24-21.

Last week: Unfortunately, we were double right last week about a Ravens win, leaving us at 6-3 straight up and 5-4 vs. the spread.

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