As reckless as he can be on a motorcycle, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger usually is more careful with the football.
But he threw away a game last week, tossing two interceptions and losing a fumble in a defeat at Denver. That was uncharacteristic of Roethlisberger, who has been more focused than he was last season after his summer motorcycle mishap started the Steelers on a downward spiral.
Roethlisberger, playing about as well as any NFL quarterback not named Tom Brady, has a passer rating of 101.1 while throwing for 13 touchdowns with five interceptions. Pittsburgh averages 26.7 points per game and leads the league in time of possession.
The offense is balanced by Willie Parker, fifth in the league in yards rushing with 600 through six games. Parker has a league-high eight runs of 20 yards or more.
In fact, the Steelers are strong on both sides of the ball, ranking sixth in total offense, second in rushing offense and third in total defense.
With the return of strong safety Troy Polamalu last week, Pittsburgh’s defense is close to full strength. The offense is more explosive, too, with wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes healthy.
The Steelers, 4-2 straight up and against the spread, might be the third-best team in the AFC. They can solidify that status Sunday by taming the Cincinnati Bengals.
Pittsburgh is favored by 31/2 points, a number it should cover. The visitor is 9-1 against the spread in this AFC North series, and the Steelers have covered six straight at Cincinnati.
On and off the field, the Bengals are in trouble. At 2-4, they are a long shot for the playoffs. They trailed the New York Jets 23-10 last week before making a surprising fourth-quarter comeback.
Carson Palmer is by far the best quarterback the Steelers’ defense will have faced, but that’s about the only case that can be made for Cincinnati in this matchup.
Aside from his mistakes in the loss to the Broncos, Roethlisberger moved the offense by passing for 290 yards and four touchdowns.
Off a disappointing effort, Pittsburgh will toughen up against a wobbly opponent waiting to be knocked out.
Four more plays for Week 8 (home team in CAPS):
• BEARS (-5) over Lions — In the first meeting on Sept. 30, Chicago led 13-3 before allowing a league-record 34 points in the fourth quarter of a 37-27 loss. It’s time for revenge, and that does mean something in a divisional game. Bears quarterback Brian Griese has improved since his first start at Detroit. The Lions have been terrible on the road, getting blown out by 35 at Philadelphia and by 31 at Washington.
• JETS (-21/2) over Bills — Rookie quarterback Trent Edwards is making his first road start for Buffalo, and that has to be a significant negative factor. Jets veteran Chad Pennington probably will be making his last start if he doesn’t win this week. If Eric Mangini is any kind of coaching genius, he can motivate his team to beat a bad opponent at home.
• 49ERS (+3) over Saints — It’s too early to claim the Saints are on the way back. All they did last week was struggle to beat a pitiful Atlanta team at home. Both offenses are sputtering, so take the points with the home underdog. San Francisco might get enough production from running back Frank Gore to stage a minor upset.
• Packers (+3) over BRONCOS — Green Bay’s defense is stocked with good, young talent. If Brett Favre avoids the costly errors that Roethlisberger made a week ago against the Broncos, the Packers should be in position to win in the fourth quarter. Denver is 2-11 against the spread in its past 13 home games.
Last week: 4-1 against the spread
Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans can be reached at 387-2907 or email@example.com.