After a gutsy performance to defeat the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night, the Steelers have taken control of their own destiny, sitting atop the AFC North division and possibly a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
The Steelers may be over the hump, but are not out of the woods yet. There is a quarter of the season left to go, and the Steelers still have some challenges ahead.
Sunday, the (9-3) Steelers play the second of a regular season division opponent, the woeful (2-10) Cincinnati Bengals, and can clinch a playoff berth this week with a win.
The Bengals are trying to end a nine-game losing streak. They could assume the role of spoiler from here on out, starting this week with Pittsburgh, who they nearly knocked off a few weeks ago.
Last year’s AFC North champions are currently on a nine-game losing streak since beginning the season 2-1.
When these two teams met for the first time this season, the Steelers defeated the Bengals 27-21 on the road, after they came close to giving up the 20-point lead.
QB Carson Palmer orchestrated a comeback in the fourth, and on two major defensive penalties capitalized for 14 points. (Lamar Woodley called for tripping, Ike Taylor called twice for defensive pass interference and Casey for Hampton-roughing the passer).
On Cincinnati’s final play, the game came down to the ability of linebacker James Harrison and cornerback Ike Taylor to knock the ball away from Cincinnati slot receiver Jordan Shipley on a fourth-and-five play at the Steelers 12-yard line to help seal the victory.
On a three-game win streak, the Steeler defense has returned true to form giving up only 29 points while allowing opponents an average 260 total yards. In their previous three games they gave up 80 points in losses to New Orleans and New England.
The Steelers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 46 consecutive games. In the last meeting, RB Cedric Benson ran 11 times for 46 yards in the first half against the Steelers and was shut down in the second.
Benson has only two 100-yard games this season—against Buffalo and Tampa Bay—and averages 3.5 yards per carry. Bernard Scott, the other running back, averages 4.5 yards per carry. However, the last time he faced the Steelers in Week 9, he received no carries and lost a fumble.
The Steelers are still No. 1 against the run and are allowing three yards per carry and a mere 62.2 yards per game. I expect the streak to continue.
However, the Bengals defense is 22nd against the run, hopefully we can expect a healthy dose of RB Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac “Red Zone” Redmond.
Hosting the Bengals at Heinz Field this Sunday, it is expected to snow which is all the more reason to pass the rock to our running backs.
The Bengals offense ranks better than the Steeler offense which is all the more reason for the defense, especially the secondary, to stay on its toes.
It has been reported that DE Brett Keisel will be back in the line up this Sunday. It has been with his and Aaron Smith’s absence due to injury which has weakened the pass rush.
A little history note: This is the 81st meeting for the Steelers and the Bengals. The Steelers lead series, 48-32, with a 26-14 record in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won the first meeting in Cincinnati 27-21 Nov. 8, after the Bengals swept the series last season for the first time since 1998.
The Steelers had won the five games previous to that. The series began in 1970 when the Steelers joined the AFC and the two have shared the same division, Central and North, since.