Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Bold Predictions and Analysis
Entering play this weekend, the AFC features two teams above .500, seven teams at .500 and seven teams below .500.
The Bengals sit at 3-3, while the Steelers are right below them at 2-3.
Injuries have decimated the Steelers in 2012 and are a huge reason why they have had to change their identity to stay competitive.
Pittsburgh is synonymous with smash-mouth football, yet—so far this season—the team ranks 31st in the league running the football at 74.8 yards per game. Luckily quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a group of talented targets in the passing game to keep the Steelers relevant.
A victory this week—at least temporarily—would supplant Cincinnati firmly in the postseason picture. A loss, however, would be the team's third straight heading into a bye next week.
With home games against the Denver Broncos and New York Giants on the horizon, the Bengals need to get back on the winning track, otherwise, their season could quickly turn sour with a little-to-no shot of returning to the playoffs.
The key in Sunday night's game will be how each team defends the pass. And with more weapons to choose from, Big Ben should have an easier time than Andy Dalton putting his team in position to score.
Here is one bold prediction for each team in Sunday night's matchup:
Jonathan Dwyer Rushes for 120 Yards and 2 Touchdowns
The Steelers' backfield will be thin on Sunday night with both Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman out with injuries. Jonathan Dwyer will step in as the main man for Pittsburgh.
Though Dwyer only has 70 yards on 24 attempts (2.9 YPC) so far in 2012, entering the game against the Bengals as the starter should provide a boost in his confidence. So should the fact that Cincinnati's run defense yields 116.8 yards per game and has allowed eight touchdowns this season, which is tied for second-worst in the league.
Roethlisberger will spread the ball around to Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller in the passing game to get the Bengals' defense off balance. If they can get ahead on the scoreboard, look for a lot of Dwyer to keep Cincinnati's defenders guessing.
Who wins this game?
Andrew Hawkins Tallies 8 Receptions for 120 Yards and 2 Touchdowns
A.J. Green enters Sunday's contest with the Steelers averaging over seven catches and 104.7 receiving yards per game. He is Dalton's favorite and most talented target in the passing game.
However, the Steelers play a smart brand of defense and are allowing only 200.8 passing yards through five games this season. While those numbers have largely come against teams that don't rely on their quarterbacks to win games with their arm, Pittsburgh will stop at nothing to make Green a non-factor.
If the Bengals are to win this game, Dalton will need to steer away from Green and find his other targets—namely wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.
Hawkins enters Sunday with 25 receptions for 329 yards and two touchdowns. With all the attention centered on Green, look for the diminutive wideout to find a lot of open space to work with against the Steelers.
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