Steelers vs Bengals: Why Winner Will Have Huge Leg Up in AFC Wild Card Race

Chris TrapassoAnalyst IOctober 16, 2012

Oct 14, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) winds up to throw during the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-US PRESSWIRE

Some say the AFC is a total mess with only two teams currently sporting a winning record. 

I say it's awesome and hopefully provides a myriad of compelling storylines and meaningful games in the second half of the season. 

The more the merrier, right? 

With seven teams at 3-3, one thing's clear in the AFC—the wild-card race is completely and utterly wide open. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals will clash on Sunday Night Football in an AFC North battle that will give one team a big leg up in the hunt for one of the two AFC Wild Cards. 

Ben Roethlisberger and Co. are reeling after an uncharacteristic loss last Thursday to a previous 1-4 Tennessee Titans club. 

They're dealing with a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball, injuries that have made their lack of depth apparent on both the offensive and defensive sides, as both units look slow in key areas. 

As for the Bengals, they're fresh off consecutive road defeats at the hands of the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns. While they have also had to deal with injuries, the real problem for them has been a lack of general consistency on both offense and defense from their starters. 

Yes, it's only a Week 7 battle, but it has massive wild-card implications. 

In all likelihood, both teams will be fighting for playoff position in November. 

A win is a win, but beating a divisional opponent is absolutely huge. 

Remember, after head-to-head games, the next tiebreaker is conference record. 

With a victory, the Steelers would get a much-needed second win against an AFC opponent. The Bengals would get their third. 

Anytime there's an intra-conference showdown, it's imperative for both clubs. 

But with the AFC shaping up to be a parity-filled horse race with anywhere from six-to-eight teams vying for two wild-card spots, Sunday night's game between the Bengals and Steelers is extremely critical.