Bengals look for rare home win against Steelers to stay in the thick of the AFC Wild Card chase
It’s one thing to dominate a team on your home field, as the Packers had done to the Lions at Lambeau up until the last couple years; or to just own a bad team overall, as the Patriots continue to do to the Bills. But what the Steelers have done to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium is getting ridiculous.
Since Paul Brown Stadium opened in 2000, Pittsburgh has won 16 of 19 there against the Bengals, including two playoff wins. In fact, going back to 1991 and including the last 10 games in the series played at Riverfront Stadium, Pittsburgh is 23 for its last 28 in Cincinnati. And it’s not like the Bengals have always been bad; Cincinnati has made the playoffs seven of the last nine seasons.
If the Bengals can’t find a way to win Monday night and finish strong, they won’t make it eight of 10. While the Steelers are rolling at 9–2 and hoping to earn the top seed in the AFC playoffs, the Bengals sit a game off the pace for the last wild card at 5–6. With road games still remaining at Minnesota and Baltimore, Cincinnati needs every win it can get.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Steelers -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Bengals' offense on a roller coaster
Cincinnati's offense has been horribly inconsistent all season. After failing to score a touchdown in the season’s first two games, the Bengals seemed to figure things out, averaging 25 point per game in two wins and an overtime loss before their bye. But since then it’s been up and down. They came out of the bye with just 179 yards against the Steelers and were even worse two weeks later against Jacksonville. Two weeks after that, they somehow beat Denver despite just 190 total yards. The games in between have been OK, but Cincinnati still ranks last in the NFL in total offense. Perhaps getting rookie RB Joe Mixon more involved will help. Mixon got a season-high 26 touches last week against Cleveland and responded with 114 yards rushing and 51 receiving.
2. Steelers vulnerable to the big play?
Pittsburgh ranks fourth in total defense and scoring defense, and no one has allowed fewer first downs. But last week’s 31–28 win over Green Bay was harder than it had to be thanks to touchdown passes allowed from 54, 55 and 39 yards. Throw out those three plays and a 25-yard pass on Green Bay’s other scoring drive, and the Steelers were dominant as usual, allowing 134 yards on 46 plays (2.9 per play). But those plays count, and A.J. Green (two 70-plus-yard touchdown catches this season) is certainly capable of taking advantage. In fact, it’s tough to see the Bengals winning this game without getting a couple huge plays out of Green and/or Mixon.
3. Bengals must contain Bell
Le’Veon Bell (above, right) is generally good against everyone, but he has feasted on the Bengals. In six career games against Cincinnati, Bell is averaging 137.2 yards from scrimmage. In fact, the only time the Bengals have held Bell under 100 yards from scrimmage was also the only time they managed to beat the Steelers in those six games. Last December he had 93 rushing yards and 28 receiving in a 24–20 win at Paul Brown Stadium before missing the playoff game there with an injury. Earlier this season, Bell had 134 yards on the ground and 58 through the air in a 29–14 win at Heinz Field.
Cincinnati has managed to claw its way back into the AFC playoff race, so in theory this should be a good spot: A desperate team playing a divisional rival at home in front of a fired-up Monday night crowd. But a closer look shows that home field hasn’t been an advantage at all for Cincinnati against the Steelers, and the Bengals are in the race only because the AFC stinks. Cincinnati hasn’t out-gained an opponent in any game since Oct. 8. Let’s not overthink this.