The Cincinnati Bengals were the surprise team of 2021, now they prepare to start their AFC title defense against the Steelers, who enter the post-Ben Roethlisberger era.
Going from just a four-win team in 2020 to 10 wins and a division title in 2021 would've already been considered a success, but Joe Burrow and the Bengals had to go ahead and win the AFC and play in the Super Bowl, so they just blew expectations out of the water.
This year they won't be able to sneak up on anyone, though, and even with a vastly improved offensive line, that guarantees nothing, especially in the ultra-competitive AFC.
Pittsburgh won't have Roethlisberger at quarterback after his retirement, although some would argue they only had the ghost of Roethlisberger most of last year anyway. Expectations at this point are that Mitchell Trubisky will be the starting quarterback to open the season, entering camp with experience coach Mike Tomlin will likely covet. Let's be honest, though, at some point we'll likely see rookie Kenny Pickett on the field.
Cincy was second in the NFL last year against the spread at 14-7 including the playoffs, while the Steelers covered just 44 percent of the time (8-10) overall.
Given that we know very little about what the Pittsburgh offense will look like, expect a significant amount of attempts on the ground. The Steelers hit the under 58 percent of the time last year, while Cincinnati went under in 61.9 percent of its games.
Steelers at Bengals Week 1 Lean: Under 44.5
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