An absolutely crucial NFC North clash takes place Sunday afternoon in a meeting that will be anything but festive. Intensity should be at peak levels as the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Heinz Field to take on a suddenly desperate Pittsburgh Steelers side. Both squads are in must-win territory and this should be a game that has the true feel of NFL playoff football.
Pittsburgh enters this contest undoubtedly a tad surprised they’re in a situation this dire. A few weeks ago they looked comfortable, almost a lock for the playoffs, but losing four of their past five contests certainly changes things. Pittsburgh has looked dismal in their first two contests since Ben Roethlisberger returned from injury, and if they don’t figure it out this week, it could be too late. They enter this game with a 7-7 record and Pittsburgh knows the vitality of their next two games. This is a veteran-laden group loaded with big-game experience. Look for a big outing from Pittsburgh this week at home. Unfortunately for Mike Tomlin’s side though, they will not be at full strength. Cornerback Ike Taylor remains out injured, a big loss considering the fact it was Taylor who shut down the prolific Bengals’ wide-out A.J. Green in their last meeting. Pittsburgh also has a bunch of banged-up players, but bumps and bruises are part of the game when it comes to playing football in December.
Meanwhile for the Bengals they’ve experienced quite the resurgence after a dismal start to their 2012 campaign. Cincinnati enters Pittsburgh with an 8-6 record and know that if they beat Pittsburgh on Sunday they can both clinch a post-season berth while eliminating the Steelers from contention. It doesn’t get much sweeter than doing that on Pittsburgh’s home field. Whether or not a young Bengals squad are prepared to do that, remains to be seen. The playoffs truly start now for both teams and with the stakes at an all-time high, Cincinnati desperately needs to end their futility streak against the AFC North’s top teams. The Bengals have lost nine straight contests against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and if that continues they’ll be watching the playoffs from home. It’s mostly all hands on deck for Cincinnati on Sunday. They’ve been relatively healthy and have no lingering injury concerns from the past few weeks. There are no excuses for this team this time around.
Bengals vs. Steelers Betting Odds:
Cincinnati Bengals +3 (+105)
@ Pittsburgh Steelers -3 (-125)
Over 41.5 (-105)
Under 41.5 (-115)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Bengals vs. Steelers Pick:
This could be a watershed moment for the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. After years of embarrassing losses to the kings of the AFC North, Cincinnati has a glorious opportunity to clinch a playoff berth while knocking the Steelers out of the tournament on Sunday. Though it seems like a potentially great script, unfortunately for Marvin Lewis and his young Bengals squad, it’s too much too soon. Cincinnati has a wealth of good, young pieces on their team, but to go into Pittsburgh and knock off Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in what is essentially a must-win contest simply will not happen.
Pittsburgh has looked lacklustre of late, but the Steelers remain a veteran-laden group that knows how to win these types of games and when to turn it on. The time is now in Pittsburgh, and expect their performance to reflect that.
Andy Dalton is a decent NFL quarterback, but he’s ultimately one that has struggled mightily when going against premier defenses. His numbers are less than stellar when going against the Steelers, and expect that to continue come Sunday. Pittsburgh enters this contest ranked number two in the NFL in defending the pass, and despite Ike Taylor’s absence, the Steelers possess the experience and ability to wreak havoc on any quarterback in this league. Pittsburgh is also very capable at defending against the run and look for their interior to stifle Benjarvus Green-Ellis. The Steelers are sixth in the NFL with their run defense and last time held Green-Ellis to just 69 yards on 18 carries. Expect the Bengals to have difficulty moving the chains, and a noisy pro-Steelers crowd won’t help matters either.
The Steelers offense seems to be in disarray, but they will figure it out for this pivotal contest. In their first meeting against the Bengals, the Steelers gashed Cincinnati on the ground, and look for more of the same. Though Cincinnati has improved their defense throughout the season, Big Ben and his plethora of weapons will simply overwhelm and overmatch the Bengals. In a game of this magnitude, you’ve got to side with the Super Bowl champion Roethlisberger and his team of winners. Pittsburgh is at home, desperate, and will have the horses to pull out a narrow victory. These aren’t games the Steelers typically lose.
PICK = Steelers -3 (-125)