By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
Yet again, the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) will match up against a divisional rival in the playoffs when they travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals (12-4) for the third time this season. This time, much more is on the line for both teams. The teams split their season series, with the Bengals winning the first game in come-from-behind fashion in week 8 16-10 and the Steelers handily taking the second game in week 14 33-20.
On paper, this game appears to be heavily favored towards the Steelers due to their high powered offense which ranked 3rd in total offense at the conclusion of the season and the fact that they will be facing QB AJ McCarron instead of Andy Dalton. Factor in that they are playing in Cincinnati, where the Bengals traditionally do not play well against Pittsburgh and have yet to win a playoff game under head coach Marvin Lewis, the Steelers should be almost guaranteed a victory on Saturday night, right?
The outcome of this game hinges on many factors involving the Steelers. Which version of Ben Roethlisberger will we see? The one who passes for almost 400 yards and multiple touchdowns? Or the one who throws multiple interceptions a game? Will RB DeAngelo Williams be healthy enough to play? Or will the unproven 2nd year RB Fitzgerald Toussaint carry the starting duties? Will the dominant defense that forced 7 sacks and 2 interceptions in week 17 against the Browns come to play? Or will it be the defense that made Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and WR Doug Baldwin look like first-ballot Hall of Famers in week 12 to the tune of 345 passing yards and 5 passing TD’s for Wilson and 145 receiving yards and 3 TD’s for Baldwin?
When firing on all cylinders this season, the Steelers have looked almost unstoppable:
- Antonio Brown had yet another historic and record breaking season, with 1,834 receiving yards, 136 catches, and 10 TD’s.
- Roethlisberger averaged 328.2 yards per game, which is the 3rd highest average in a single season in NFL history.
- Cam Heyward (who is overlooked by most of the NFL) had another fantastic year as a leader for the defense and continues to prove why he is one of the best defensive ends in the league.
- The pass rush was arguably the best it has been in almost 5 seasons, with 48 sacks and 30 forced turnovers on the season.
- Amid multiple key injuries and suspensions at important positions, the team stepped up and played excellent football.
Even with these great highlights and stats from the season, the team still had many struggles that almost kept them out of the playoffs altogether:
- The secondary continues to be a liability week after week by letting both elite and inferior QB’s put up huge stats.
- The team continues to play down to inferior competition, now having lost 7 of the past 12 games against opponents under .500.
- Roethlisberger continues to make unnecessary and untimely turnovers that have heavily swayed the momentum of games.
For the Steelers to win this weekend against the Bengals (or to have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl altogether), the Steelers are going to have to play nearly flawless football all of January. If they do that, there aren’t many teams who can match the firepower the Steelers have on both sides of the ball. If they don’t, it will end up being another early exit from the big dance for the Black & Gold, as the team has not won a playoff game in 4 years and got handled last year 30-17 by the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card game.
History against the Bengals indicates that this will be a win for the Steelers, and in both games this season, the Steelers were the dominate team. Roethlisberger has been here many times before and will look to rise to the occasion again and make Marvin Lewis 0-7 in playoff games.
Don’t let the Steelers recent playoff performance fool you. If this team can get their first win under their belts this weekend and lift a massive weight off of their shoulders, the Steelers will truly become the team that no one wants to face.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Bengals 20.
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