Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (-3)
Based on their body of work this season, the Steelers and Bengals look evenly matched. But Cincinnati holds an advantage in several critical areas. The Steelers pass defense is ranked a woeful 28th in the NFL, and they had no answer for A.J. Green when they faced off back on Nov. 1 (11 rec, 118 yds, 1 TD), so Andy Dalton should be able to move the ball through the air with ease on Sunday. The Steelers might try to get the ground game going, but they won’t have Le’Veon Bell like they did on Nov. 1, and D’Angelo Williams was largely held in check that day (aside from one 55-yard run, he had just 19 yards on eight carries). That will put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger to find open receivers against the NFL’s number-one defense by points allowed (16.8 PPG). The Steelers’ saving grace through the air on Nov. 1 was TE Heath Miller, who caught 10 passes for 105 yards, but Antonio Brown and Martavius Bryant were subdued that day, catching just 10 passes in total. The venue is another important factor, as the Bengals are money at Paul Brown Stadium (8-4-1 ATS dating back to last season). The Steelers may need this game more, but the Bengals aren’t going to let them have it.
The pick: Bengals -3
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Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (-7.5)
Things are not trending in the Falcons’ direction lately, and it’s bound to get worse for them as they visit the undefeated Panthers on Sunday. Atlanta has dropped its last five games SU and hasn’t covered the spread in its last eight contests. On Sunday they’ll face a Carolina team that they are just 1-5 ATS against in their last six matchups. The Panthers were tested on the road by New Orleans last week but they survived, and now they return to the confines of Bank of America Stadium, where they are 4-2 ATS this season. The Panthers’ third-ranked rushing attack, led by Johnathan Stewart, should have no problem moving the chains against a Falcons rush defense that’s allowed over 350 yards on the ground in the last two games. The Panthers have put up no fewer than 27 points in every game they’ve played since Week 3, while the Falcons haven’t topped 21 points in game since Week 5, and Atlanta will struggle to reach that mark against Carolina’s third-ranked defense by YPG. The 7.5 point spread is a little steep, but a blowout is far more likely than an upset here, so lay the points.
The pick: Panthers -7.5
San Francisco 49ers at Cleveland Browns (-1.5)
The 49ers were an absolute trainwreck for most of September and October, but since they made the move to Blaine Gabbert at the quarterback position, they are 2-2 SU and 3-1 ATS. The two games they lost were at Seattle and home to Arizona, and they were not disgraced in either of those contests. The games they won were over Chicago and Atlanta, both of whom are in the hunt for a playoff spot. Niners RB Shaun Draughn should be able to run the ball effectively against Cleveland’s defense, which surrenders the second-most rushing YPG in the league. The suddenly-mobile Gabbert, who broke off a 44-yard run last week and has rushed for 140 yards on 19 carries since filling in for Colin Kaepernick, should have a good game on the ground too. The Browns have been brutal to their backers lately; they’re 0-4-1 ATS at home this season and they’ve dropped seven straight games, so why would you want to take them as a favorite? Johnny Manziel is not the answer, as he’s 1-4 as a starter this season. San Francisco should continue their march toward respectability with a win in Cleveland this week.
The pick: 49ers +1.5
Best of the rest (picks in bold)
Tennessee Titans at New York Jets (-7)
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5)
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (-10)
Buffalo Bills (-1) at Philadelphia Eagles
Detroit Lions at St. Louis Rams (E)
Washington Redskins at Chicago Bears (-3)
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (E)
Seattle Seahawks (-6) at Baltimore Ravens
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos (-7)
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers (-7)
New England Patriots (-3) at Houston Texans
New York Giants (-1.5) at Miami Dolphins
Lines are based on a consensus of major sportsbooks and are subject to change.