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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