Bengals-Steelers Preview

The Cincinnati Bengals are on the cusp of something that hasn’t

happened in the team’s 46-year history. They’ve been to the

playoffs before, sure, but it’s never become a trend.

The Bengals have a chance to earn a postseason berth for a third

consecutive season – with a little help – when they face the

Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.

A win over the Steelers and a loss or tie by either Baltimore or

Miami will put Cincinnati in the playoffs in three straight years

for the first time. If it’s the Ravens who lose or tie while the

Bengals win, the AFC North title is theirs.

“We’re on a roll,” linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “At the

beginning of the year, we had three goals. We wanted to be

undefeated at home, win the AFC North and eventually be world

champions.”

Before they can look ahead, though, the Bengals need to take

care of business under the lights in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati (9-4) has won three straight, two with an offensive

outburst and one behind a stellar effort on the defensive side. The

Bengals beat Cleveland and Indianapolis by a combined 83-48 score.

In between, they shut the Chargers down in a 17-10 win at San

Diego.

Andy Dalton is currently enjoying the highest passer rating of

his career, a still-modest 87.7, while the running-back tandem of

BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard has been causing fits for

the opposition. They’ve combined for 1,282 yards on the ground and

10 touchdowns, while Bernard also has three receiving scores.

The Bengals’ 160 passing first downs and their 86 rushing both

rank in the top-half of the NFL, while the team’s 25.7 points per

game is tied for ninth.

Cincinnati has also thrived behind one of the NFL’s top pass

rushes. Though no player has more than seven sacks, 12 have

recorded at least one and three have six or more quarterback

takedowns.

That should be a concern for the Steelers (5-8), who have had

trouble this season protecting Ben Roethlisberger.

Due to various injuries on the offensive line, Pittsburgh’s

blocking has been substandard, with Roethlisberger absorbing 39

sacks – tied for third most in the NFL. The Bengals took the

two-time Super Bowl winner down twice in a 20-10 home win Sept.

16.

Bernard scored twice for Cincinnati in that one, while

Roethlisberger went 20 of 37 with a touchdown and an interception

to post his second-worst rating (73.1) of 2013.

“We didn’t win the first game against these guys,” said

Pittsburgh receiver Jerricho Cotchery. “We are going to be up for

the challenge. Guys are going to be ready to play.”

The Steelers are coming off a pair of losses in which the most

memorable moments involved crossing the sideline.

They fell to the Ravens 22-20 on Thanksgiving in a game best

remembered for coach Mike Tomlin overstepping the sideline,

entering the field of play and interfering with Baltimore kick

returner Jacoby Jones – a gaffe which cost Tomlin a $100,000

fine.

Last Sunday, wide receiver Antonio Brown also overstepped the

sideline, but he left the field of play when he narrowly stepped

out of bounds on a last-second reception that would have won the

game. Instead, the Steelers lost to the Dolphins 34-28.

The frustrating losses, and the unlikely chances of them making

the playoffs, haven’t distracted the Steelers as they prepare for a

chance to play spoiler.

According to Tomlin, the team is “putting together a plan that

is geared toward defeating the Cincinnati Bengals.”

Roethlisberger has played well of late despite the team’s

struggles. In the last four games, the quarterback has completed

63.0 percent of his passes, throwing 11 touchdowns and, more

importantly, no interceptions. He has a 14-6 career record against

the Bengals.

“We know what’s at stake,” said Steelers running back Le’Veon

Bell. “Guys just have to be ready. We have to be ready for it.”

History doesn’t matter much to the Bengals, who hold a two-game

lead over Baltimore in the division and have a lot left to play for

in the coming weeks. Beyond their third straight playoff berth and

a division crown, a first-round bye is also within reach.

“We’ve just got to take care of our business and we’ll be all

right,” Bengals cornerback Adam Jones told the team’s official web

site. “If we just win out we’ll be OK. That’s all we’ve got to do:

win out and let everything else take care of itself.”