The Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers will face off for the second time this season Sunday night at 8:30pm. Usually late season match ups between these two teams hold division and playoff implications for both, but for the first time in a long time it is just the Bengals who have a shot at winning the division and a higher seed in the playoffs.
The Bengals sit at 9-4 and can clinch the AFC North if they win or tie in Pittsburgh on Sunday and the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Lions on Monday night. Coming off of one of their most complete performances of the year in a 42-28 win over Indianapolis last week, the Bengals look set to win the division, or, if Baltimore wins, take a two game lead with two games remaining to play. But first, the Bengals will face some obstacles against the Steelers.
The Bengals suffered a huge loss last week when cornerback Terrence Newman suffered a sprained MCL. Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown have been a Bengals-killing combo in recent years and without both of their starting corners, the Bengals secondary will really need to step their game up. The Steelers offensive line has been plagued by injuries all year, so the Bengals defensive line should have a good game, getting to the quarterback and putting pressure on Roethlisberger, despite how hard he is to take down.
Last week Andy Dalton looked like the quarterback we all know and love that won the AFC offensive player of the month back in October. He had not been playing up to par since he won that award, but last week he looked like his October self. Again this week he will have the benefit of healthy receivers and tight ends.
Running back Gio Bernard did not have many yards against the Steelers in their first matchup, going for 38 yards on eight attempts. However, he did have two touchdowns in that game, one rushing and one receiving. Bernard is proving that he can be the next Ray Rice in this AFC North, and if he can feed off of his momentum from last week, he’ll have a great game this week.
A main headline surrounding this game is the return of the once Steeler but turned Bengal linebacker James Harrison. Harrison was always one of the most feared guys the Bengals had to face when going against the Steelers, so they are happy to have him on their side. Harrison is a guy who can keep his emotions in tact, so whether he is greeted with a round of boos or a roaring applause, he will not let it faze him.
The Bengals won’t have an easy time going into Heinz field in mid December against the Steelers. The Primetime lights and playoff atmosphere is what the Bengals need to start winning in if they are going to prove they have taken their play to the next level. A win won’t be easy, but it should be doable. Pittsburgh is the underdog in this game for the first time since 1989. We’ll see if that prediction is true come late Sunday night.