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NFL Predictions: Steelers Will Beat Bengals, Finish Atop the AFC North

Cody MeadowsCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2016

NFL Predictions: Steelers Will Beat Bengals, Finish Atop the AFC North

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers always seem to be near the top in the AFC North division.

    That remains true this season, despite losing twice to the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers and Ravens are tied at 8-3 with five games remaining, while the Cincinnati Bengals sit at 7-4.

    This weekend's game between the Steelers and Bengals will go a long way towards determining which team will win the AFC North.

    Should the Steelers win on Sunday, I believe they will win the division outright. Before you agree or disagree with me, take a look at some key reasons why this is the case!

    As always you should comment below and let me know what you think. 

History Favors the Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals have played each other twice a year since becoming division rivals in 1970.

    It's no wonder that a rivalry has developed despite the Steelers holding a 52-32 edge overall. Many of these games have included fights and physical play between the players and fans alike! From T.J. Houshmandzadeh's infamous cleaning of the cleats with the terrible towel to Carson Palmer's knee injury, fans of both teams get into heated arguments.

    Seeing as this is an important game, history tells us that the Steelers will win. 

    The Steelers have won the division 20 times compared to the Bengals' seven. They won the only playoff meeting between the two teams 31-17 on January 8, 2006. Most importantly, the Steelers have won six Super Bowls and the Bengals haven't won any.

    Since the year 2000, the Steelers lead the series 18-6.

    The Bengals are playing good football but the Steelers are too, winning six of their last seven games.

    This game is in Pittsburgh which spells disaster for the Bengals, as the Steelers have only lost once at home this season.

The Steelers Have the Easiest Remaining Schedule in AFC North

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers have the easiest schedule remaining of the three AFC North contenders.

    The Steelers only play two teams with winning records from here on out, the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers. Other than these two, they have the Cleveland Browns twice and the Saint Louis Rams.

    The Baltimore Ravens' schedule isn't much tougher but they have lost to inferior teams this season. The Ravens' toughest remaining games are against the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals, both on the road. They also play the Browns twice and the winless Indianapolis Colts.

    All three of the Ravens' losses came against inferior opponents, and I expect them to lose one of the two games against the Browns. I would also be surprised if they beat both the Bengals and the Chargers.

    The Bengals have the toughest schedule remaining. They still have to play the Steelers, Ravens and Houston Texans this season.

    Barring injuries, there is no way I see the Steelers losing more than one game from here on out.

Ben Roethlisberger Is a Proven Big-Game Winner

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    Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is easily the best quarterback in the AFC North.

    Big Ben has proven his doubters wrong in every way possible. They called him a game manager, and he broke several NFL records his rookie year and beyond. These include the most regular-season wins in a season for a rookie quarterback with 13, the longest regular-season win streak to start a career with 15, and many more.

    He has two Super Bowl wins and three appearances. Joe Flacco is being praised this season despite never beating the Steelers when it matters most. Even when the Steelers looked beat down 21-7 in last year's playoffs, Flacco and the Ravens couldn't hang on.

    Having a true franchise quarterback is the difference between winning regular-season games and winning in the playoffs.

    Roethlisberger will give the Steelers a huge advantage in the AFC North as long as he is under center.

    The Steelers know how to win in the clutch, the Bengals and Ravens don't.

The Steelers Are Getting Healthy at the Right Time

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers have had several players miss time this season.

    The good news for Steelers fans is that it looks as though the team will be at full strength this weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Safety Troy Polamalu is expected to play after sustaining a head injury against the Kansas City Chiefs. Another important player returning is linebacker LaMarr Woodley, which will make things difficult for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.

    The Steelers weren't able to sack the rookie in the first matchup between the two teams, look for that to change this time around.

    Injuries are part of the game, but it sure helps to be getting key players back before such an important game.

Andy Dalton Is Still a Rookie

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    He may be a Rookie of the Year candidate, but Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is still a rookie!

    Since he came back for a second time as the Steelers' defensive coordinator in 2004, Dick LeBeau is 13-1 in games in which a rookie quarterback has started against his defenses, including the postseason.

    The only loss came in the final regular-season game in 2007 in Baltimore when rookie quarterback Troy Smith led his team to victory. The Steelers rested four starters, including Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, to get ready for the playoffs.

    Dalton played well against the Steelers in their first meeting this season, but threw two costly interceptions that proved too much for the Bengals to overcome.

    He has experience against the Steelers' stout defense now, but they have more tape on him as well.

Steelers Defense Returning to Form

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been struggling to force turnovers this season.

    If not for this unfortunate truth, the Steelers would be sitting in first place in the AFC and looking to lock up a first-round bye in the playoffs. They were dominated in all phases of the game Week 1 against Baltimore but could have easily won out after that debacle.

    The last two weeks the Steelers defense has looked more like what we are used to, forcing turnovers in the clutch.

    Steelers defensive back William Gay was involved in both of Andy Dalton's interceptions in the first meeting. The first was intercepted by Lawrence Timmons after Gay tipped the ball to him, and then Gay himself intercepted Dalton in the last couple minutes of the game to secure the victory.

    The Steelers forced four turnovers against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend as well.

    If this trend continues as I expect it will, the Steelers look poised for another deep playoff run.

Steelers' Wide Receiving Corps Are Becoming the Best in the NFL

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    This isn't the ground and pound Pittsburgh Steelers team of the past.

    While this isn't necessarily always a good thing considering more passing can lead to more turnovers, Pittsburgh is now a passing team. Throwing the ball 60 percent of the time, this Steelers team looks to pass often.

    With a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and three of the best young wide receivers in the league, who can blame them?

    Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have all shown the world what they can do to opposing defenses. Mike Wallace can beat anybody deep, Antonio Brown catches anything thrown his way and Emmanuel Sanders can do a little bit of everything.

    Mike Wallace is already nearing 1,000 yards receiving with 939 yards and six touchdowns, while Antonio Brown has 707 yards and one touchdown. Ben Roethlisberger has been going to Antonio Brown a lot lately on important downs, so he could very well top 1,000 yards as well.

    Sanders has been hurt and his numbers aren't nearly as impressive, but he has shown flashes of greatness this season. Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Jerricho Cotchery are also reliable receivers as this team is well on its way to becoming one of the best passing offenses in the league.

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