Rested Bengals placed in prime playoff position

The Bengals returned from their weekend off with a big bounce in
their playoff chances.

While they rested from their 34-13 win in Philadelphia on
Thursday night, the Bengals (8-6) moved into position to get the
second AFC wild card spot. Pittsburgh (7-7) slipped a game behind
with its overtime loss in Dallas.

If they win out, the Bengals would make the postseason,
something that seemed highly unlikely at midseason when they
slogged through a four-game losing streak.

There’s also a chance they could win the AFC North, although
they need help. Baltimore (9-7) lost its third straight game over
the weekend, taking the division title down to the last two
weeks.

The Bengals finish with games at Pittsburgh and at home against
Baltimore. The one next week could go a long way in deciding their
playoff fate. If the Steelers win, the Bengals would have an
identical record with Pittsburgh, but the Steelers would have the
head-to-head tiebreaker because it would have swept the season
series.

If they win the last two games, the Bengals would achieve a few
noteworthy franchise breakthroughs. Cincinnati, after all, has gone
to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons only once in a 44-year
history. The 1981 team reached the Super Bowl and returned to the
playoffs the next season.

The Bengals would also end their recent futility against the AFC
North’s top teams. The Bengals are 0-6 against the Steelers and
Ravens over the last two seasons.

Cincinnati has lost a combined 10 straight games to the Steelers
and Ravens, dating back to the 2009 season when the Bengals won
their last division title. Last season, they reached the playoffs
as a wild card team.

”We really haven’t done anything yet,” safety Chris Crocker
said on Monday. ”I’m not going to say this is a defining moment
because we play these guys twice a year. But this is very big,
especially at the end of the season.

”We’re picking up momentum. These teams are postseason teams
every year. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are always in the postseason
and they always go deep, so it’s important for us to play well
against them now in order to go in with some momentum if we do make
the postseason.”

Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati 24-17 on Oct. 21 at Paul Brown
Stadium, a game that the Bengals let slip away. They jumped out to
a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, but managed just 105 yards of
offense after going 80 yards on 15 plays to score a touchdown on
the opening possession.

Quarterback Andy Dalton is 0-6 in his career against the
Steelers and Ravens. He’s completed less than 50 percent of his
passes (40 of 82) against Pittsburgh and has never thrown for more
than 170 yards in his three games.

Cincinnati has managed just 38 first downs against Pittsburgh
with Dalton as the starting quarterback.

”It’s us taking care of our business,” right tackle Andre
Smith said. ”They have a great defense and they’re going to play
their game and wait for people to mess up. It’s up to us to go out
there and compete and execute every single play.”

This will be the fifth time during coach Marvin Lewis’ 10
seasons in Cincinnati that the teams have played in Week 12 or
later with playoff ramifications on the line for the Bengals. Three
of those previous four games were also at Heinz Field.

Cincinnati won on the road 24-20 in 2003 on Jon Kitna’s late
pass to Matt Schobel. The Bengals finished 8-8 and missed the
playoffs.

They won again at Heinz Field in 2005, a 38-31 victory that put
them in position to clinch the division title two weeks later. The
Bengals then lost to the Steelers in the first round of the
playoffs at Paul Brown Stadium, with Carson Palmer getting a torn
knee on his first pass attempt.

Pittsburgh denied the Bengals a playoff berth in 2006 with a
23-17 overtime win at Paul Brown Stadium in the final game of the
regular season.

Last season at Heinz Field, the Steelers routed the Bengals
35-7. Despite the loss, the Bengals still earned the No. 6 seed in
the playoffs.

”They’ve been there, done that and played in many big games,”
Crocker said. ”We have to win this game.

”I don’t know where we are if we don’t win this game.”

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