Welcome to the Monday Night Football betting breakdown, where I’ll provide a betting overview of the upcoming MNF game utilizing moneyline, points spread, and projected total odds from DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook. Additionally, I’ll hone in on at least one player or game prop each week that I feel has profit potential at one of those three sportsbooks.
All betting takes will be classified as either a “lean” or a “pick.” A lean is a wager that we have a determined degree of certainty. However, it’s one that still falls somewhere short of a high-confidence selection. A pick carries an additional degree of confidence based on a variety of factors. These include relevant injuries, the past track records for certain conditions and bet types, and team performances leading up to the game.
For more detailed information on this week’s matchup, including further game analysis, betting trends breakdown, betting tips specific to MNF, and a synopsis of the history of the line movement for the game, please see our Monday Night Football Betting Preview over at TheLines.
Bengals at Steelers, Monday, Sept. 30, 8:15 p.m. ET
The Steelers have remained steady favorites since the game was first posted last week. Both team’s close Week 3 losses essentially seemed to cancel each other out in the minds of the betting public. The matchup is unusual in the sense that it’s rare these clubs meet with each sporting winless records. Neither is as bad as their combined 0-6 mark implies. That even holds true with Mason Rudolph under center for the Steelers in place of Ben Roethlisberger (elbow).
Rudolph came close to notching a win in his first NFL start last week in San Francisco. After a mostly forgettable first half, his pair of long touchdown passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Diontae Johnson had Pittsburgh in position for a victory in the fourth quarter. However, the defense, which has surprisingly been the weakest link in the early going, couldn’t hold the Niners with a short field afforded them by a late James Conner fumble. That ultimately resulted in a 24-20 loss for the Steelers. One bright spot on that side of the ball in the defeat was the safety play of newly arrived Minkah Fitzpatrick. He notched five total tackles, defensed a pass and put a hit on San Fran’s Jimmy Garoppolo.
Another week of practice/classroom prep as the starter should be of considerable benefit to Rudolph. So, too, should be home-field advantage in a prime-time matchup, where the electricity in the home crowd always seems turned up a notch. The on-field matchup isn’t bad by any stretch, either. The Bengals have been up and down with their pass defense thus far and come in allowing a so-so 237.7 yards through the air per game. But it’s Cincy’s deficiencies against the ground attack that could actually be the indirect key to an improved performance from Rudolph. The Bengals are ranked ahead of only the Dolphins with 168.7 rushing yards per game allowed through three weeks. Conner and Jaylen Samuels, with a possible occasional assist from rookie Benny Snell, could potentially spearhead the Steelers ground attack’s first breakout game, and in the process, keep the Cincinnati defense honest.
To be sure, it doesn’t figure to be easy for the Steelers despite some potential advantages when they’re on offense. Their defense has plenty of question marks in its own right. They’ve been vulnerable to both the run (139.3 rushing yards allowed per game) and pass (302.7 passing yards allowed per game). Joe Mixon had the look of an improved back in Week 3 after an abysmal first two games. Andy Dalton is playing solid ball and has Cincinnati ranked behind only the prolific Chiefs and Patriots with 308.3 passing yards per contest. With speedster John Ross around to potentially expose the Pittsburgh secondary’s shaky back-end coverage and Tyler Boyd operating in the short-to-intermediate passing window, the Bengals should have a chance at a few plays through the air.
With two teams that know each other well each fighting for its first win, this shapes up as a possible slug-fest of a showdown. Ultimately, I see home field and a more talented — albeit underachieving thus far — Steelers defense stepping up to the occasion and Pittsburgh securing a very close win.
The Steelers check in as 3.5-point favorites. They get just a bit more than the standard three-point edge afforded home teams. That shapes up as a reasonable number. Neither team has a win and with Roethlisberger out, the talent of the two offenses is reasonably comparable. The one big advantage the Steelers have is at No. 1 receiver with A.J. Green (ankle) still out for Cincinnati. Factor in each team’s underperforming defense and the fact this is a divisional game and you’ve got the makings of a very close contest.
The Bengals are 2-1 (66.7 percent) overall versus the number in 2019, including 2-0 as an away underdog. Last season, Cincinnati was an impressive 4-2 (66.7 percent) ATS in AFC North games as well. Although they’ve dropped eight straight games straight up in the series, their 2018 losses to Pittsburgh were by just seven (home) and three (road).
The Steelers are 1-2 (33.3 percent) overall against the spread in 2019, including 0-1 as a home favorite. Last season, Pittsburgh finished with a 3-3 mark ATS in AFC North games.
Both teams will be desperate and the Steelers offense is likely to have trouble pulling away with Rudolph still getting his bearings. Therefore, I’m strongly leaning toward a Bengals cover.
The Lean: Bengals +3.5 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Were Roethlisberger under center for the Steelers, we’d undoubtedly see a notably higher projected total. The 43.5-44.0-point figure at most sportsbooks speaks to the significantly lowered expectations for the Pittsburgh offense. However, Rudolph is far from incapable. Given his college pedigree — two 4,000-yard seasons and an 86:22 TD:INT in three seasons as a full-time starter — and the fact he’s already connected on four touchdown passes through six quarters seem to corroborate that.
As already alluded to and illustrated with numbers, both defenses have plenty of deficiencies. Those should help facilitate balanced attacks for each club. That would be of particular benefit to Rudolph as he continues to acclimate to a starter’s job he’d never envisioned he’d have this early into his career. The diversified approaches should, in turn, help each team finds its way into scoring position on a fair share of their drives.
Granted, each team knows each other’s personnel well, to an extent. However, the Bengals are running a considerably different offensive system after bringing in Zac Taylor as their head coach. Meanwhile, the Steelers’ attack is a different one when Rudolph is under center for a number of reasons. One of those is tied in to Rudolph’s mobility, which is an upgrade over Roethlisberger’s.
The total here is a modest one and I can therefore see both teams doing enough to exceed it in a game that should come down to the wire.
The Pick: Over 43.5 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
Best Prop Bet
Home Team To Win By 1-6 Points (+320 at DraftKings Sportsbook)
As referenced already on numerous occasions, this should be a four-quarter affair. Neither team figures to have enough to leave the other in the dust. The Steelers are my firm moneyline pick here at home. However, they’ll have to sweat it out, which makes this prop a particularly appealing one for me at some hefty plus-money. Four out of the last five games between these two teams have also been decided by seven points or less. Three of those have been by four points or fewer. Yes, these are different teams, but there’s plenty of personnel overlap from those squads. And the major subtractions — a sidelined Green for Cincy and the departed duo of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown for Pittsburgh — actually help make these squads even more evenly matched.