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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 9:00 AM

There are a few really bad teams in the NFL this season. But, one of the surprise entries on that list is “Pittsburgh on the road.” The Steelers are supposed to be an annual Super Bowl threat…and are once again in the discussion this season. Yet…away from home…

*Pittsburgh (+1) lost at Denver 31-19, missing Vegas expectations by 12 points in a game where things never seemed to click.

*Pittsburgh (-4) lost at Oakland 34-31, missing the spread by a touchdown against a team that’s 0-4 when not playing the Steelers!

*Pittsburgh (-5) lost at Tennessee 26-23 last Thursday Night, missing the spread by eight point against a team that’s 1-4 when not playing the Steelers. And, that win was a miracle against the Detroit Lions keyed by three non-offensive touchdowns.

*Pittsburgh’s supposedly smash mouth offense rushed for only 75, 54, and 56 yards in those three road games, which is an awful performance considering the competition. You can’t control the point of attack against Oakland or Tennessee?

*Pittsburgh’s defense only forced one turnover per game in that trio, which is a continuation of concerns from last year about a loss of physicality on that side of the ball. Pittsburgh became mortal last year when they stopped forcing turnovers. Right now, they’re less than mortal on the road!

If that continues, then Cincinnati is going to win tonight’s game by 4-7 points (and cover by more) against a market that’s been stubborn about expecting quality play from Pittsburgh. If the Steelers used the extra days after their Thursday Night appearance to make some adjustments…then maybe we’re about to see a resurgence that will put Pittsburgh on the Super Bowl short list. Only two teams in the AFC had winning records entering Sunday action. Pittsburgh doesn’t have to advance much to become a serious championship threat once again. 

Let’s see what our indicator stats have to say about the Sunday Night game on NBC…

 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS at CINCINNATI BENGALS (8:20 p.m. on NBC)

Las Vegas Spread: Pittsburgh by 2.5, total of 46

Home field advantage is worth three points in the NFL. Pittsburgh is seen as being about 5.5 points better than the Bengals on a neutral field…and would be laying as much as 8-9 points a home based on this number. Obviously, Pittsburgh is still getting a lot of respect in the Vegas line even if they’re not playing at a high level on the road yet this season. Cincinnati’s reputation has taken a big hit the last two weeks with losses to Miami and Cleveland. 

WON-LOST RECORDS (scheduled strength according to USA Today)

Pittsburgh: 2-3 (23rd ranked schedule)

Cincinnati: 3-3 (25th ranked schedule)

Pittsburgh’s overall pedigree takes a hit because 60% of their results have been poor road games! This particularly set of data suggests that Vegas is giving the Steelers too much respect. They have a worse record than Cincinnati despite playing a very similar schedule. If you pencil in a home win for the Steelers to put them both at six games…then we’re looking at even teams. The evidence for Pittsburgh as a road favorite isn’t apparent yet. Let’s see what the other numbers say.

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL

Pittsburgh: +2

Cincinnati: -7

If you believe that turnovers are random…then you’re thinking that Cincinnati might actually be the better team overall. They’ve suffered some bad luck that’s about to reverse. If you believe that quarterback experience plays a big role in this stat…then you’d be concerned that Andy Dalton is biting off more than he can chew in his sophomore season. The Bengals have loosened the reigns on their young buck. Maybe they loosened them a bit too much. We’re going to call this a wash because Pittsburgh is -1 on the road, +3 at home. Both teams have some work to do in this area.

OFFENSIVE STATS

Pittsburgh: 360.6 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play

Cincinnati: 382.2 yards-per-game on 5.9 yards-per-play

They’ve played comparable schedules…yet Cincinnati grades out better. Even if you give Pittsburgh credit for an extra good home game that hasn’t been played yet (home/road splits can muck up the numbers in a small sample size), that 382.2 of Cincinnati is tough to top. Cincinnati’s opened things up…but is suffering in the turnover category as a result. Handicappers have to determine what the bottom line result of that is going to be in this Sunday Night meeting.

DEFENSIVE STATS

Pittsburgh: 295.8 yards-per-game on 5.2 yards-per-play

Cincinnati: 344.8 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play

Big edge for Pittsburgh here…and that’s even with playing a road heavy schedule so far. We’d still like to see the unit forcing more turnovers. The reason Pittsburgh is the favorite here…and still getting respect in futures prices in Vegas is because of that strong defense.

LAST WEEK’S BOXES

TENNESSEE 26, PITTSBURGH 23

Total Yardage: Pittsburgh 412, Tennessee 359

Rushing Yards: Pittsburgh 56, Tennessee 94

Passing Stats: Pittsburgh 24-40-1-356, Tennessee 25-44-1-265

Turnovers: Pittsburgh 1, Tennessee 1

Third Downs: Pittsburgh 47%, Tennessee 56%

Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 5, total of 42

Well, the “strong defense” we referenced for the Steelers moments ago has been mostly a home field phenomenon. If the Steelers are that soft in yardage and third downs again this week, then they’re going to lose again this week! Steelers fans should be very concerned that Ben Roethlisberger has to throw 40 or more times in every road game because the running game isn’t doing anything. Pittsburgh can’t ask Big Ben to do everything!

CLEVELAND 34, CINCINNATI 24

Total Yardage: Cincinnati 438, Cleveland 328

Rushing Yards: Cincinnati 76, Cleveland 110

Passing Stats: Cincinnati 31-46-3-362, Cleveland 17-29-1-218

Turnovers: Cincinnati 4, Cleveland 1

Third Downs: Cincinnati 36%, Cleveland 41%

Vegas Line: Cincinnati by 2.5, total of 42

Turnovers were a killer, turning a statistical victory into a scoreboard loss. You see that Dalton threw three interceptions. Passing for over 300 yards isn’t a positive when coupled with giveaways. With young quarterbacks…it’s vital not to let them start down the Tony Romo path in these formative stages! Big test for The Red Rifle this week.

 

BEST EXPECTATION

Well…if you didn’t know the names of the teams and were only looking at the numbers, the best expectation would clearly be a Cincinnati victory of at least a field goal. The visitor here lost by double digits to a playoff contender…then by three points twice to obvious non-contenders. Cincinnati is probably a non-contender given their current form…but you never know. If Pittsburgh doesn’t fix what’s wrong, they fall to 0-4 on the road straight up and ATS.

On the other hand, we KNOW Pittsburgh is better than they’ve been showing on the road so far. Handicappers have to figure out how “potential” looms over “best expectation” in a game like this. The math says the wrong team is favored. The high end potential for both teams would suggest Pittsburgh can outperform what the likes of Miami and Cleveland did the last two weeks to the Bengals.

JIM HURLEY knows how important the Sunday Night games are to your bankroll. If you won during the day…you want to press up while the going is good. If you lost with your own picks, you want a bailout. That’s why he’s been working closely with his scouts, his sources, his statheads, his computer programmers, and his Wise Guy connections to find you the right side in this game. Please check the home page of this website for news on whether or not Steelers/Bengals made the cut. The best plays on the Sunday board are just a few clicks away!

If you have any questions about today’s card or seasonal packages, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on adding this week’s World Series to any football program. Bonus baseball would include Sunday’s Game Six in the NLCS, and a seventh game if needed Monday.

Back with you Monday for a stat preview of the much anticipated Detroit Lions-Chicago Bears showdown. Many stat assessments rank Chicago as the #1 team in the NFL. What will the NOTEBOOK say about the game? Find out the TRUTH about the Lions and Bears Monday! See you then!

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