Preview: Cincinnati Bengals

It’s been a tough year to write about the Steelers. At one moment, you’re talking about their ups. The next their downs. It’s as if the team has setup the fans for disappointment. In many ways, the opening game of the season has told the entire story of this season. The first half of that game, the Steelers hammered the Browns… but the second half, the Browns nearly came back and won.

Heading into the final month of the season, Pittsburgh can no longer accept this roller coaster style of football: or else, they’ll end up out of the playoff race. Sunday’s game could be the very definition of “must win” if there ever was one.

The Steelers are still in a prime position to make their own destiny, and their best hopes of a postseason berth would be a 1st place finish in the AFC North. To become number one, Pittsburgh has to dethrone the reigning king of the hill, the Cincinnati Bengals. And most likely, they will have to do so twice.

Beating the Bengals once, will be no easy task, but it’s not impossible. During last year’s regular season, Cincinatti was unbeaten at home. This year, they’ve lost one and tied one. They also laid an egg in last year’s playoffs, with a home loss to the San Diego Chargers right out the gate. And fans who were the ‘Burgh last December certainly remember how that Steeler team demolished that Bengal squad.

Now it will be up to the Steelers to finish strong in December once again, as they are in a logjam for a playoff spot. Currently, the Steelers sit at 10th in a conference with 12 teams at .500 or better. The team is sandwiched between AFC North foes Cleveland and Baltimore, but has the unique situation of being able to drop Cincinnati the 2 games necessary to jump into 1st place, while also gaining a favorable division, conference and head-to-head record to push them into the playoffs.

So how do the Steelers do that?

One way, is to not settle for field goals in the red zone. The Steelers left a lot of points on the board in various games, games which would’ve improved their record from where it stands now at 7-5. The team is multi-faceted in it’s attack, but none of this will matter if rumors of Big Ben’s busted fingers are true.

On the other hand, Andy Dalton has lived up to his billing as being a “choke artist” with recent flops against both the Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Steeler defense will need to step up and contain players such as AJ Green, unlike the way they let the Saints Kenny Stills run throughout the secondary last weekend.

The defense should get Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier back this week, but may be without key contributor James Harrison (knee) and Brett Keisel, who was lost to a season-ending injury last week. Rookie Stephon Tuitt will get his first start in place of the “Deisel” and Steve McLendon is poised to return to his starting NT position. McLendon was sorely missed last Sunday, and while maybe average on the surface, his replacement Cam Thomas was largely ineffective.

The Bengals defense is also licking their wounds, but are mostly back at full strength, as LB Vontaze Burfict is questionable for Sunday’s game.

Overall, I do not believe the Bengals are as good as many have made them out to be. I believe that both a drop in the Steelers and Ravens seasons opened the door for a team to take over, and Cincinnati was the better of those two teams. But having seen what the Bengals are (and aren’t) capable of doing on any given Sunday, gives me a shadow of doubt that the Bengals can outright beat the Steelers, and at that, twice in four weeks.

Let’s hope that the Steelers can get up for this game, because if they do not, this could mark an early end to their season.

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