An AFC North clash sees two teams fighting for a postseason spot. The Bengals only need to win to clinch the AFC North for the second time in three years, while the Steelers need to win to stay in the mix for a wild card berth. The Steelers are playing like the most dangerous team in the NFL right now. Ben Roethlisberger leads the league’s most explosive offense and has Pittsburgh in the thick of the wild card race. Last time these teams met in Week 8, Pittsburgh had the Bengals on the ropes before Le’Veon Bell left with a season-ending injury. They could have the advantage once again. Cincinnati are battling Denver and New England for the top seed in the AFC and cannot afford to lose to Pittsburgh. Andy Dalton is still playing well with a potent offense, while the defense is deep at most positions. A win would seal the AFC North and make Cincinnati’s hopes of winning a postseason game just a little bit bigger.
Three Keys to the Game
Can the Bengals keep up with Pittsburgh’s offense?
The only team to accumulate more yards over four games than Pittsburgh’s 2116 yards over the last four weeks were the 1982 ‘Air Coryell’ Chargers. The Steelers are rolling with Ben Roethlisberger healthy and throwing to Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton; each a match-up nightmare for the defense. Brown is arguably the best receiver in the league, while Bryant and Wheaton allow Roethlisberger to spread defenses out and pick them apart. The Bengals are banged up in the secondary. Star corner Adam Jones is doubtful with a foot injury. Safety George Iloka and corner Leon Hall are questionable, while corner Dre Kirkpatrick may not be 100% with a knee injury. With the weapons at Pittsburgh’s disposal, it will be a tough ask for a limping secondary to shut them down.
Can Pittsburgh’s defense keep the Bengals in check?
Cincinnati also has a potent offense. Andy Dalton has just as many weapons as Roethlisberger, and has a deeper backfield behind him. Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green are match-up nightmares while Marvin Jones is a good change of pace weapon. Dalton also has a better offensive line, although both lines have done a good job of pass protection this season. But unlike Cincinnati, Pittsburgh’s defense appears healthy. The Steelers have played well on defense this season despite a new coordinator, and their fast style could give Andy Dalton some problems.
Who has the best quarterback?
Both teams are fairly similar, but the main difference is at the quarterback position. Roethlisberger is one of the top five quarterbacks in the league right now, maybe even top three. He is never afraid to go downfield with the weapons he has, and has good protection upfront. Dalton isn’t long removed from being seen as a middling option barely at the level of a franchise quarterback. Yes, he has been having his best season yet, but that could be due to having a healthy cast of weapons around him.
Match-up to watch
DeAngelo Williams vs Geno Atkins
Despite losing Le’Veon Bell earlier in the season, Pittsburgh’s running game hasn’t missed a step thanks to DeAngelo Williams. The former Panther is running as well as anyone in the league and is also an asset in the passing game. He is a wily, patient veteran who can add balance to Pittsburgh’s offense, taking the unit to another level. Atkins is having a nice bounce-back season after injuries last year. The Bengals rank 9th against the run, allowing just 97.2 yards per game. But against a runner like Williams, they could struggle to keep Pittsburgh contained.
The Steelers had Cincinnati’s number in Week 8, but were derailed by Bell’s injury. This time around, Pittsburgh have a healthy offense that is decimating opposing defenses. Roethlisberger threw for over 450 yards against the Legion of Boom a couple of weeks ago. As good as Cincinnati are, injuries on defense will keep them from sweeping the Steelers for the first time since 2009.