Bengals-Steelers Battling for Playoff Slots

The Cincinnati Bengals make the big I-70 trip to Pittsburgh to visit the Steelers in a critical matchup that sets the stage for the AFC Wild Card slots.  The game features two of the top defenses in the league, and some great young offensive stars, including two of the most dynamic young receivers in the NFL, just breaking through to the next level.

Currently, three of the four teams in the AFC Central are in positions to make the playoffs, including both the 7-4 Bengals and 8-3 Steelers, but there’s a lot of teams breathing down their necks.  If the season ended today, the 8-3 Ravens would win the Central title due to their sweep of the Steelers, and the Steelers and Bengals would take the two Wild Card slots, but there is little room for error.

Ben Roethlisberger has been having one of his best years ever, as Pittsburgh has gone to more of an air attack, behind Big Ben and a core of strong, young receivers led by Mike Wallace (939 yards and 6 TDs, in his third year), Antonio Brown (707 yards and 1 TD in his second year) and tight end Heath Miller (485 yards and 2 TDs).  Their receiving corps is so strong that veteran WR Hines Ward has found himself on the bench with limited playing time.

Roethlisberger has thrown for over 3,070 yards already this season, with 17 TDs and 10 INTs, for a QB rating of 92.2.  He is on pace for 4,464 passing yards, which would be the best season of his career.

The Steelers defense gets some key pieces back this weekend, as Troy Polamalu and Lamar Woodley are both listed as probable for the game.  When they are at full strength, the Steelers defense can play with anyone in the league, and they are 4th  in the league in points allowed, giving up just 17.1 points per game.  They are ranked 3rd against the pass and 6th against the run, and 2nd overall in yards per game, giving up just 278 YPG.

Cincinnati will be no roll over for this game, as they also have a strong defense and an offense with some surprising young stars as well.  Cincinnati’s defense is ranked 8th in points allowed with 19.5 per game.  The Cincinnati defense if 5th overall in yards allowed per game, giving up 307 YPG.  The AFC Central is definitely home to some of the toughest defenses in the league with the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens.

The Bengals offense has played well, behind the strong play of rookies Andy Dalton (2509 yards and 16 TDs) and A.J. Green (745 receiving yards and 6 TDs), along with the running of Cedric Benson, who has 740 yards on the ground along with 5 TDs.

Ultimately, with their defense and running game, the Bengals can keep this game close, as they did just 3 weeks ago when they lost to the Steelers at home 24-17.  But experience will likely take the day in this battle.  Cincinnati is good, but young.  They’ve won the games that they should win, but they have lost in the games against top tier opponents, including Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Francisco.  In fact, they’ve only beaten one team with a winning record all season (Tennessee), and the teams they have beaten have a combined record of 23-44.

The Steelers have had some ups and downs this season, including getting swept by the Ravens, but they showed what they are capable of in a dominating win over New England in Week Eight.  Look for the Steelers to get the win and solidify their position as the top Wild Card seed.

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