The Pittsburgh Steelers named third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph as the starter against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16.
Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph attempts a pass in a blowout loss against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Image: AP)
The two AFC North divisional rivals square off in a game with postseason implications.
The Steelers (7-7) have a 3% chance to make the playoffs as an AFC wild-card team, according to a projection by Upshot. The Steelers must win all three of their remaining games, and get some help from other teams, to sneak into the playoffs through the back door.
The Bengals (8-6) currently occupy the #6 seed in the AFC as one of three wild-card teams. They can strengthen their postseason position and end the Steelers’ postseason hopes with a road victory on Saturday.
Wild Season in Pittsburgh
Fans have been complaining about the Steelers’ lackluster offense for the past two seasons. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada came under fire for his unimaginative playbook and predictable tendencies. Head coach Mike Tomlin fired Canada after a Week 11 loss against the Cleveland Browns.
The Steelers won their next game with a 16-10 victory against the Bengals in Week 12, but have since dropped three consecutive games to sink to 7-7.
Tomlin’s job is in jeopardy unless he can somehow guide the Steelers to a long-shot playoff berth.
Starting quarterback Kenny Pickett sustained a high ankle sprain in Week 13 and underwent tightrope surgery. Pickett has been trending in the right direction, but he’s still sidelined for at least another week.
Backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky filled in for Pickett in the last three games, but all three of his starts resulted in losses. The Steelers averaged 13.7 points per game with Trubisky as the starter, so Tomlin decided to gamble on Rudolph to jump-start the offense.
Rudolph: From Third String to Starter
The Steelers selected Rudolph out of Oklahoma State with a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He posted an impressive 5-3 record as a starter in eight games as a rookie in 2019. He went 0-1-1 as a spot starter since then, and has an overall record of 5-4-1 as a starter.
Rudolph took all of the snaps in practice with the starters for the first time this season. He typically runs the scout team, which is a job relegated to third-string quarterbacks.
“The hardest part of being the three is even though there is almost a zero percent statistical chance of you playing, you still have to prepare,” Rudolph told The Athletic. “I try to push myself each week that when this happens, you are ready and don’t miss a beat.”
We’ve got experience with Mason,” said Tomlin. “He’s got experience with us within our program. He’s a good idea guy. He’s a good sounding board for the guys that are in. It’s a really comfortable thing for us with his presence and him being elevated, no doubt.”
“I’ve been here with Mason, he’s got a lot of starts under his belt,” said interim offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner. “You feel really good about a guy who’s got experience under center in NFL games in the regular season playing for you.”
Betting the Steelers in a Must-Win Situation
The Steelers are +2 home underdogs at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Bengals are 6-6-2 against the point spread this season, while the Steelers are 7-7 ATS.
The Steelers are +900 odds to make the playoffs, according to a prop bet by DraftKings. They’re a huge betting favorite at -1800 to miss the playoffs.
The Bengals are also an underdog to make the playoffs at +200. You can back them to bubble the playoffs at -250. The Bengals have a 34% chance to make the playoffs, according to Upshot.
The Steelers are at the bottom of DraftKings’ NFL futures board at +25000 odds to win the Super Bowl, and +15000 odds to win the AFC Championship.
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