Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
8:30 pm ET, Monday September 16
TV: ESPN (Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden)
Line: Bengals favored by 6½; total 40½

When Pittsburgh has the ball: The Steelers offensive line has been a sieve for a while, and now they are without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against Tennessee. Pouncey will be replaced by Fernando Velasco, who started 13 games at center last year for the Titans. If getting the terminology of a new team down is not enough of a task, Velasco faces the daunting challenge of attempting to contain Pro Bowl DT Geno Atkins. If the Steelers are not confident that Velasco is ready to take over the position and the line calls then Kelvin Beachum will get the start; otherwise Beachum will be available as an extra lineman and blocking tight end.

Aside from neutralizing Atkins, Pittsburgh also has to contend with defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson; those three racked up 30 of Cincy’s 51 sacks last year. The Bengals utilize an eight-man rotation on their defensive line that includes NT Domata Peko and two early draft picks from 2012, Devon Still and Brandon Thompson. After years of dominating the line of scrimmage the tide has turned for Pittsburgh; they appear to be completely over matched on the line for this game. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are a pair of receivers capable of making big plays for Pittsburgh, but even with his penchant for extending plays Ben Roethlisberger will struggle to find the time for his receivers to get down field. The Bengals were held without a sack last week against the Bears; that won’t be the case tonight.

When Cincinnati has the ball: You don’t think of the Bengals as being an offensive firepower like the Packers or Saints are, but they have quietly assembled an embarrassment of riches on this side of the ball. Two time Pro Bowler A.J. Green (163 receptions for 2,407 yards and 18 TD the last two years) is now joined by a pair of new play-makers: TE Tyler Eifert and RB Giovani Bernard, giving QB Andy Dalton plenty of options. Returning are 6’2″ second year WR Mohamed Sanu and former Patriot RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard is a change-of-pace back and good pass-catcher, which nicely compliments Law Firm’s skill set. On the outside the 6’4″ Green and Sanu pose a physical challenge for any secondary; Green should be able to beat CB Ike Taylor almost every time. Eifert joins Pro Bowl TE Jermaine Gresham (average of 57 receptions over the last three seasons) to give the Bengals quality options regardless of whether they go with a two-TE formation or three receivers. If that’s not enough even slot receiver Marvin Jones poses a problem; he had five receptions for 65 yards last time these two teams met.

The Steelers are 7-1 on Monday Night Football with Mike Tomlin as their head coach and have won four in a row and 11 of the last 12 meetings at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, but that past history means nothing tonight; the Bengals are much better than in past years, while the Steelers are heading in the opposite direction.

Prediction: Bengals 24, Steelers 13 ()
Take the Bengals -6½ ()and a total under 41 ()
… Final Score: Bengals 20, Steelers 10

 

For the second time in nine months the San Francsico 49ers were pummeled by the Seattle Seahawks, as the defending NFC champions committed five turnovers and twelve penalties. The Niners have now been outscored 71-16 in their last two trips to Seattle, by far the worst defeats since Jim Harbaugh became head coach. The Emerald City is Colin Kaepernick‘s kryptonite: he lost a fumble and threw three interceptions while being sacked three times. To put it into perspective, the three picks Sunday night were two more than he threw in his previous eleven NFL starts. If San Francisco – which has come agonizingly close in each of the last two years – is to win their first Super Bowl since the 1994 season, then they would be well served to find a way to finish ahead of Seattle and avoid the possibility of a playoff game at Century Field.

Yesterday the Seahawks were listed as 16½ point favorites at home over the Jacksonville Jaguars; that spread has been climbing all day like a thermometer in Florida in August. The line is now up to twenty points and I don’t foresee it stopping there. This is shaping up to be the most lopsided NFL game in several years.

In two games the Jags have scored a total of just 11 points, while allowing 11 sacks, and they don’t have a single run of 11 or more yards. All that adds up to 1 thing: the number 1 pick in the next draft.

Is there any NFL coach more on the hot seat than Carolina Panthers HC Ron Rivera? Under Rivera the 0-2 Panthers are now a dismal 13-21 overall. The team just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to win close games; the two losses are by a combined total of six points, and they are now 2-14 under Rivera in games decided by seven points or fewer.

The Panthers have now blown ten fourth-quarter leads under Rivera, including in each of the last two games. Carolina also lost the best player in their secondary, safety Charles Godfrey, to a season-ending torn Achilles tendon injury.

The one saving grace for Rivera is that although owner Jerry Richardson is a tough, hard nosed person, he is also very frugal, as witnessed during the CBA negotiations. Rivera’s contract runs through the 2014 season; he’s the type of owner that would rather continue on the same path than in effect pay two head coach salaries at the same time.

Chip Kelly may go on to be a very good NFL head coach with his offensive innovations, but the Philadelphia Eagles HC certainly screwed up royally with his clock management Sunday. QB Michael Vick completed a 25-yard pass to DeSean Jackson down to the San Diego Chargers 14 yard line with just 2:17 left to play, and the Chargers up by three. Rather than let the clock wind down to the two-minute warning Kelly inexplicably had his players run downfield and rush to get another play off. Not only did the subsequent pass fall incomplete (thus stopping the clock), but Vick was injured and had to leave the field for a play.

Vick returned for another incomplete pass and the Eagles tied the game on a field goal – but rather than there being about 30 seconds left on the clock there was still 1:55 left to play. Up until that point, the Philly defense had forced just one punt all day, and San Diego QB Phillip Rivers had been superb, leading six scoring drives. The Eagles defense had not shown anything to believe they would stop Rivers and the Chargers – they had already allowed 30 points – plus San Diego still had two timeouts at their disposal. Sure enough Rivers completed a couple of mid-range passes to cross into Eagle territory, and the Chargers kicked a field goal to win the game.

We’re going to find out very quickly how much character and resiliency the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have. Two weeks, and two losses on a field goal on the final play of the game. Over the last two seasons the Bucs have now lost seven of their last eight games. If there is any doubt in how much confidence head coach Greg Schiano has in QB Josh Freeman, consider decisions late in each of the two games. A week ago the Bucs were on the Jets 19 trailing by one point, facing third and 3; Doug Martin ran the ball for no gain. Yesterday Tampa Bay had a third and 6 at the New Orleans Saints 32; again Schiano chose to give the ball to Martin, who came up three yards short of a first down. On the next play the Bucs attempted a 47-yard field goal which went wide left, the Saints took over at the 37, and after three completions by Drew Brees the Saints kicked a chip shot 27-yard field goal for the win.

Of course that’s not to suggest that Schiano should have more faith in Freeman than Martin; the running back ran for more yards (144) than Freeman passed for (125) yesterday. Freeman was a miserable 9-22 passing; that’s two straight games with a completion rate of less than 50% despite having Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as his wide receivers.

 

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Week Two started out very strong (up five units on Thursday night’s Pats-Jets game), dropped off sharply with the early games (just 3-6 ATS, +$50), then rebounded nicely late (two units on the Broncos, which was also part of a three unit three-team teaser).

Week Two Tale of the Tape

Straight Up: 12-3 (75%) 13-3 (81%)
Underdogs to win in an upset: 2-2 (50%)

Against the Spread: 7-8 (47%) 8-8 (50%)
ATS picking favorites: 3-5 (2-3, -140) 4-5 (2-3, -140)
ATS picking underdogs: 4-3 (3-0, +800)
ATS Confidence Picks: 5-3 (+660)
One Unit Plays ATS: 1-2 (-120)
Two Unit Plays ATS: 3-1 (+380)
Three Unit Plays ATS: none
Four Unit Plays ATS: 1-0 (+400)
Five Unit Plays ATS: none

Over Under Total: 11-4 (73%)
Picking Over: 5-2 (0-0, +0)
Picking Under: 6-2 (3-1, +180) 6-3 (3-1, +180)
O/U Confidence Picks: 3-1 (+180)
One Unit Plays O/U: 2-0 (+200)
Two Unit Plays O/U: 1-1 (-20)
Three Unit Plays O/U: none
Four Unit Plays O/U: none
Five Unit Plays O/U: none

Best Play of the Week: 1-0, +400 (Jets +12½ covered by 9½ points)
2-Team Teasers: none
3-Team Teasers: 1-0, +300 (Cowboys +12 ✔; Jags-Raiders under 49 ✔; Broncos +5 ✔; three units)
2-Team Parlays: none

Week Two Total: (2640 risked; net +1140; +43.2% ROI)

Season Totals

Straight Up: 24-7 (77%) 25-7 (78%)
Underdogs to win straight up: 2-2 (50%)

Against the Spread: 14-16-1 (47%) 15-16-1 (48%)
ATS picking favorites: 7-10-1 (3-6, -370) 8-10-1 (3-6, -370)
ATS picking underdogs: 7-6 (3-1, +690)
ATS Confidence Picks: 6-7 (+320)
One Unit Plays ATS: 1-5 (-450)
Two Unit Plays ATS: 4-2 (+370)
Three Unit Plays ATS: none
Four Unit Plays ATS: 1-0 (+400)
Five Unit Plays ATS: none

Over Under Total: 21-10 (68%) 22-10 (69%)
Picking Over: 9-4 (1-0, +100)
Picking Under: 12-6 (6-2, +560) 13-6 (6-2, +560)
O/U Confidence Picks: 7-2 (+660)
One Unit Plays O/U: 4-0 (+400)
Two Unit Plays O/U: 2-2 (-40)
Three Unit Plays O/U: 1-0 (+300)
Four Unit Plays O/U: none
Five Unit Plays O/U: none

Best Play of the Week: 2-0, +700
2-Team Teasers: none
3-Team Teasers: 1-0 (+300)
2-Team Parlays: none

Grand Total: (4290 risked; net +1280; +29.8% ROI)

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