This Sunday, the final wildcard spot in the AFC could be cemented if the Cincinnati Bengals find a way to go into Heinz Field and defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals (8-6) currently holds the sixth and final spot for the playoffs in the AFC, and have a one-game lead on the Steelers (7-7).
For Pittsburgh, a loss means that their hopes for the playoffs are dead. A victory gives them one more week on life support.
Cincinnati will be entering Week 16 as winners of five of their last six games, while the Steelers will come in as losers of four of their last five contests.
One of the things that will be focused on is how Pittsburgh defends Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. The Steelers will be without cornerback Ike Taylor (ankle), who held Green to just one catch for eight yards in their Week Seven meeting. Green has 1,208 receiving yards, and is first in the league with 11 receiving touchdowns.
Pittsburgh has the league’s top-ranked pass defense, but has fallen on hard times during the absence of Taylor over the past two weeks. In that span, they’ve surrendered 541 passing yards and five touchdowns.
What will get even more attention is the offensive play calling by the Steelers. After Pittsburgh’s disappointing overtime loss last week, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger mentioned that he disagreed with their play calling of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and that he wished that the no-huddle offense was ran more often.
Although Roethlisberger apologized for his comments, it still may bring some negative attention to the offense. We will have to wait and see if the apology could bring some change in Pittsburgh’s offensive scheme.
Some other negativity that the Steelers’ offense may have to endure is the Bengals’ pass rush that has 43 sacks on the year. Pittsburgh’s new-look offensive line allowed four sacks last week and couldn’t get the running game (though they didn’t get too many chances to do so).
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall might give them a boost in the backfield after coming off his one-game suspension.
All in all, I believe that having two divisional foes scrapping it out for the last position in the playoffs will result in a nail-biter. Cincinnati does have the greater momentum coming into the game. However, Bengals second-year quarterback Andy Dalton is 0-3 versus the Steelers.
I think that Dalton’s history against Pittsburgh, the fact that the Steelers have home-field advantage, and Pittsburgh having more to lose will be the deciding factors in this game.
Prediction: Steelers 20, Bengals 17
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