The Cincinnati Bengals have won two in a row to stay within striking distance of the final playoff berth in the AFC, but they will be taking a major step up in class against a bitter rival on Monday night. Coming off wins over a pair of last-place teams in Denver and Cleveland, the Bengals will host the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cincinnati, which entered the weekend one game behind sixth-place Baltimore and Buffalo in the chase for the final wild card, was dominated by the Steelers 29-14 in Pittsburgh in Week 7. “It’s another game, but it’s Pittsburgh, and they’re leading our division,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “They beat us up there. They’re coming here, and it’s a big football game for us because we don’t get any more do-overs.” The Steelers, who own the tiebreaker with New England for the top record in the conference, extended their winning streak to six games by rallying for a 31-28 victory over Green Bay last week. Pittsburgh has won 10 consecutive prime-time games and has beaten the Bengals five times in a row while winning its last four visits to Cincinnati (playoffs included).
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Steelers -5. O/U: 43.5
ABOUT THE STEELERS (9-2): Ben Roethlisberger, an Ohio native who is 23-4 in his home state, tossed four touchdowns for the second straight week and threw for a season-high 351 yards against Green Bay. Two of those scoring passes went to wideout Antonio Brown, who had 10 catches for 169 yards and leads the NFL in in receptions (80) and yards (1,195). Running back Le’Veon Bell, the league leader in rushing with 981 yards, rushed for 134 yards on 35 carries in the first meeting versus the Bengals and amassed 95 yards on the ground and 12 receptions a week ago. Pittsburgh’s defense was gashed for three long touchdown passes by Green Bay, but it allows only 17.5 points per game and ranks No. 2 in sacks with 38.
ABOUT THE BENGALS (6-5): Cincinnati has scored 30 points twice this season — both times against the winless Browns — as rookie running back Joe Mixon finally showed some sizzle by rushing for a season-high 114 yards and a TD and catching three passes for 51 yards. Andy Dalton has nine touchdowns and zero interceptions since the loss to the Steelers, when he was sacked four times, picked off twice and the Bengals managed a meager 19 total yards in the second half. Wideout A.J. Green has a team-high 809 receiving yards — more than double any other Bengals player — for an offense that ranks 32nd overall in total offense (274.3 yards) and 31st in rushing (75.6). Cincinnati is third in sacks (33) and gives up 19.5 points per game.
1. Roethlisberger needs 238 yards to become the eighth quarterback in history to reach 50,000 for his career.
2. Bengals DT Geno Atkins has seven sacks in his last seven home games, and four in the last six home matchups versus Pittsburgh.
3. Brown needs three catches and 85 yards to eclipse Marvin Harrison (563, 7,594) for the most by any player in a five-year span.
PREDICTION: Steelers 23, Bengals 20