It's Round 2 between the Steelers and Bengals as the scene shifts to Cincinnati for this important AFC North matchup on Sunday. Pittsburgh is 5-4-1 on the season while Cincinnati is 6-4 and one game behind the Ravens in the standings. Back in Week 3, the Bengals went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 24-10 in an impressive effort by the road team. They had just 12 first downs, but Joe Burrow threw three touchdown passes on his 18 attempts. Meanwhile, the Steelers threw it 58 times with Ben Roethlisberger, who had one touchdown and two interceptions in the loss.
Last week the Steelers lost 41-37 in LA against the Chargers on "Sunday Night Football." The biggest problem in this one is the lack of commitment to the run game, as the Chargers have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. Rookie Najee Harris had only 12 carries for 39 yards, which clearly wasn't enough for a team that had 44 pass attempts. LA racked up 533 yards of offense and 33 first downs in the victory and did whatever they wanted to.
The Bengals are feeling great after their 32-13 win in Vegas over the Raiders. They picked up the victory despite getting only 148 passing yards from Burrow. The team leaned heavily on Joe Mixon, who had 30 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Cincy's defense also did a number on the Raiders ground game, holding Josh Jacobs to 37 yards rushing on nine carries. Overall, they forced the Raiders into two turnovers and held them to just 13 first downs.
Pittsburgh (5-4-1) at Cincinnati (6-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 28 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Bengals -4.5
Three Things to Watch
The Steelers are coming off the long road trip out west and probably didn't leave LA until Monday morning after their late contest with the Chargers. This is their second straight on the road and third in their last five weeks since their bye. Next up, they have a home contest with the Ravens, but the Steelers can't afford to overlook this one. The Bengals are playing just their second game since a Week 10 bye, so they should be fresh. Cincy is also beginning a stretch of three straight at home with the Chargers coming to Ohio next week.
2. Is that really the Steelers' defense?
Last week, Pittsburgh was without T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Joe Haden, Tyson Alualu, and Stephon Tuitt. The latter two are on injured reserve, while reports are rather promising that Watt (hip/knee) and Fitzpatrick (activated from Reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week) could play on Sunday. Watt and Fitzpatrick are two of the most important parts of a defense that clearly couldn't keep up with the Chargers last week. Fitzpatrick had four tackles in the early matchup with the Bengals and could be busy considering how much Cincy likes to throw the ball. Haden's status is still up in the air, although there is some optimism that he could be ready too. With better health, the Steelers could play more like the defense that ranked third in total and scoring defense last year, rather than the one that ranks 23rd and 14th, respectively, this year.
3. Find some balance
The Steelers have had Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball 40-plus times in five contests with only one of those resulting in a victory, and that's when he "outplayed" Geno Smith on SNF. The 12 carries Harris had last week are his least since Week 2 when he had only 10 in the loss to the Raiders at home. Harris has had two of his better efforts when he was the most involved in the offense. The problem with this is that Cincinnati is fifth in rushing defense (98.0 ypg) and is coming off stifling the Raiders. Still, running the ball effectively and getting into short-yardage situations make play-action so much more dangerous.
The Bengals have not swept the Steelers in a season since 2009, but it's a real possibility on Sunday. Cincy's offense has shown it can beat you on the ground and through the air, and its defense is gathering confidence. Pittsburgh's defense is getting healthier, but the offense has several concerns. The Steelers need to get back to running the ball and killing the clock. I think Cincy gets the win at home though. They are just playing better.
Prediction: Bengals 23, Steelers 17
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.