The Cincinnati Bengals face the Pittsburgh Steelers in what basically counts as a playoff game at 1 p.m. ET Sunday in Pittsburgh. The Bengals head into the game with an 8-6 record, coming off a win over the Eagles and are a full game ahead of the Steelers, who come into the game off a loss to the Cowboys and are sitting at 7-7. Cincinnati currently holds the AFC's sixth and final playoff seed, and if it defeats the Steelers, it locks themselves in, thanks to the Jets' loss to the Titans last week. Should that happen, Pittsburgh would be eliminated from postseason play.
If the Steelers win, the Bengals won't be eliminated, but they would need help from the Giants this week and would need to defeat the Ravens in Week 17 to have a chance. The Bengals have won five of their last six games while the Steelers have lost four of their last five.
Meet the Bengals
The Bengals, coming off a surprising playoff season in 2011, have had their ups and downs in 2012. After winning three of their first four games, they went on a four-game losing streak and tumbled down the NFL standings. However, a big win over the Giants in Week 10 put them on the path to win their next four games and four of their next five.
The Bengals lead the NFL in sacks on defense and on offense. They're led by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is having the best season in his career, and wide receiver A.J. Green, who is having a fantastic season, as well. Of course, we can't forget about Andy Dalton, who is having another fantastic season, although he has struggled over the last few games.
Meet the Steelers
The Steelers are one of the old guard in the AFC. Regardless of their situation, they always seem to be in playoff contention at the end of the regular season, and this year is no exception. However, they have been battling health issues all season, especially at the quarterback position. Ben Roethlisberger is back from his shoulder and rib injury but most believe he isn't at 100 percent. With an offensive line that struggles to protect him in the pocket, the Steelers could have trouble with a ferocious pass rush.
They aren't without their strengths, though. The Steelers, once again, have the best defense in the NFL, only allowing 273.3 yards per game to opposing offenses. That comes from having the best pass defense coupled with the No. 4 run defense. The team's defense, as it has been in the past, will be the key to success throughout the rest of the season for the Steelers.
Local Takes: Bengals
The folks over at Cincy Jungle believe the Bengals' key to victory is the play of their defense and the pass rush:
Roethlisberger thrives under pressure and if that pressure doesn't bring the quarterback to the turf, opposing defenses are generally vulnerable to big plays. When blitzed (five or more rushers), Roethlisberger has generated a 7-1 touchdown to interception ratio for a passer rating of 100.1 and a 12.3 yard/completion average. Yet the conundrum is often unrelated to the amount of pressure; it's the ridiculous steadiness Roethlisberger has no matter the situation. According to Pro Football Focus statistics, his numbers are relatively the same under pressure, with no pressure, when blitzed and during typical pass rushes from the defensive front-four.
Local Takes: Steelers
The folks over at Behind the Steel Curtain believe one of the reasons the Steelers will win is because they've consistently defeated the Bengals and "it's not the Bengals' time."
The Steelers have beaten this team five times in a row for a reason. Clamor all you want about BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Andy Dalton and even the great A.J. Green (one catch, eight yards last time). This defense is about scheme, and it's time the remember that. It's a look at the future; Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen, David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey. And it's a look at the past, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, Casey Hampton, Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. It's not Cincinnati's time.
Follow The Fun
Make sure you check out SB Nation's team blogs, Cincy Jungle and Behind the Steel Curtain, for more analysis on the game.
Bengals beat writer - Joe Reedy
Steelers beat writer - Dale Lolley
The Bengals are facing a win-and-you're-in situation against the Steelers -- win and a Wild Card berth is secured or lose and hope to get in by Week 17. The Bengals are one of the most tortured franchises. Of course they're going to lose this game and take this thing to Week 17.
The pick: 20-17, Steelers
The Steelers are favored by 4 points in most books, according to Oddsshark.