Two longtime North Division foes will do battle in week one of the NFL season as the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon. It is a new era in Pittsburgh as, for the first time since 2004, the Steelers will no longer have Ben Roethlisberger under center. Instead, the Steelers will turn to former Bears first-round draft pick Mitch Trubisky as the #1 signal caller while being backed up by their 2022 first round pick Kenny Pickett. The Bengals come into 2022 with sky-high expectations after coming within a winning drive of capturing the franchise's first Super Bowl title in 2021. Quarterback Joe Burrow is back along with his trusted wideout Ja'Marr Chase and a host of other offensive weapons that make the Bengals one of the favorites to return to the Super Bowl in 2022. The opening kickoff is set for 1:00pm EST.
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Fresh Start in Steel CityMitch Trubisky never quite took to being the first round draft pick of the Chicago Bears, 2nd overall, and headlining one of the marquee franchises in the NFL. Fast forward five seasons and here he is again, headlining a marquee franchise. After a summer spent battling rookie Kenny Pickett and veteran Mason Rudolph, Trubisky was named by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to lead the team in the post-Ben Roethlisberger Era.
"We're just really comfortable with what Mitch has shown us," Tomlin said. "He's a guy that came to us with franchise quarterback experience. He's comfortable in those shoes. He's been the focal point of a football team, in the organization before. He's had success in doing so. Like I mentioned, when we acquired him, he took the Bears to the playoffs two out of four years. He has a winning record as a starting quarterback. Those things were attractive to us. His athleticism and mobility were attractive to us. He took care of the football in-stadium, all our quarterbacks did."
Trubisky will certainly have offensive weapons at his disposal when he takes the field on Sunday in Cincinnati. The Steelers boast a top-flight running back in Najee Harris as well as a talented receiving core led by Pro Bowler Diontae Johnson along with Chase Claypool and rookie wideout George Pickens, who has turned heads in camp. The offense should be much more high octane this season after spending a season playing with a clearly diminished Roethlisberger throwing short three to five-yard passes down the field. The key to success will be the Steelers' offensive line and their ability to keep Trubisky upright.
🚨 QB1 signed jersey giveaway 🚨— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 6, 2022
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Defensively, the Steelers have several key pieces that can make plays. First and foremost is the NFL's reigning sack leader, T.J. Watt. The Steelers, as a team, have notched at least 50 sacks in each of Watt's five seasons since being drafted by Pittsburgh. Cam Heyward gives Watt a solid running mate on the defensive line and Minkah Fitzpatrick is the leader of the Steelers secondary from the safety position. The most glaring concern for the Steelers this season will be their ability to stop the run. In 2021, the Steelers gave up the most rushing yards in team history. The team added lineman Larry Ogunjobi and linebacker Myles Jack to help shore up the middle of the field and give the Steelers a fighting chance when teams try to pound the ball against them.
Injury Report: The Steelers have yet to have the services of WR Johnson since he left the final preseason game with an apparent shoulder injury. Starting right tackle Chooks Okorafor has also missed practice time due to a back issue so both players are worth keeping an eye on as it gets close to game time.
Next StepThe Bengals surprised the football world last season with a near fairytale season that ended up a failed fourth-down conversion from a possible Super Bowl title. Quarterback Joe Burrow, in just his second season, led the Bengals to a 10-7 record and then wins over the Raiders, Titans and Chiefs on the way to the Super Bowl. Of course, being the Bengals, things that can go wrong still seem to go wrong on occasion. Burrow's appendix burst during training camp and he is just now getting back to his playing weight as the regular season looms. When healthy, however, Burrow is one of the top-five quarterbacks in the NFL and has a boatload of weapons to choose from. Reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase is back at wide receiver as he quickly vaults up the charts as one of the league's premier wide receivers. He is teamed with another 1,000-yard receiver in Tee Higgins to give the Bengals one of the best 1-2 punches in the NFL. At running back, Cincinnati has veteran Joe Mixon. Mixon had his best season in 2021 with career highs in rushing yards, receiving yards, total yards and touchdowns. Bengals coach Zac Taylor will hope for more consistency from his offensive line this season, something they did show late in the playoffs last season.
Overshadowed by the Bengals' high octane offense last season was the Bengals' steady defense. The front seven is the strength of the team led by end Trey Hendrickson, who had 14 sacks in 2021. D.J. Reader clogs the middle at tackle and Logan Wilson should lead a solid linebacking group. The Bengals secondary added rookie Daxton Hill to an already solid group that held their own against the high-powered Chiefs, particularly in the playoffs. This group should only improve from last season after the majority of the group was working together for the first time.
Injury Report: There are no major injuries on the Bengals side of things, although all three tight ends missed time at practice this week and Burrow will be seeing his first action since the appendectomy surgery.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
I think the second time these two teams meet this season, the game might be tighter and perhaps even in the Steelers' favor. They will figure out their strengths on offense and they have the kind of front seven that could give the Bengals, even with their newly improved offensive line, issues. That will not be the case here, however. The Bengals have tons of star power on the offensive side of the ball and Joe Burrow will continue his ascent towards superstardom this season. The Steelers will play their traditional 3-4 defense and show a nickel look to Burrow, who torched the Steelers for 65 points in two games last season. In their last seven games against AFC teams, the Bengals are 7-0 ATS. Additionally, they were 2-0 ATS against Pittsburgh last season and are 5-1 ATS in their last six games against the AFC North. Trubisky could eventually be a key piece of the Steelers offense but it will take some time. If his #1 wideout Johnson is unable to go, that will greatly impact the offenses' effectiveness. The Bengals have more continuity at this point in the season and they will roll in their home opener.
Lay the points and take the Bengals.
Full-Game Total Pick
These two teams went 1-1 to the over in 2021. The Steelers have gone 5-1 to the over in their last six games as a road dog. The Bengals are 8-2 in their last ten games as a home favorite. The Bengals averaged over 27 points per game last season and should thrive early in ideal weather conditions. They averaged 28 points per game at home and laid 41 points on the Steelers last season. The Steelers will find their way but not in this first matchup. Look for the Bengals to put up over 30 in the opener and push this game past the total.
Take the over, 44.5 points.