PITTSBURGH (93-7 the Fan) —

Game 15:
Steelers vs Bengals, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA, Sunday 1:00pm CBS

Spread: Pittsburgh (-4) 43.5 O/U

All-time regular season series: Steelers lead overall series 53-32 and 29-14 in Pittsburgh.  Mike Tomlin is 9-2 against the Bengals as Steelers head coach.  The Steelers have won 5 straight in the series.

Last Meeting: October 21, 2012 in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh won 24-17

Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are heading in two completely different directions, but both still have the playoffs and a chance at the division title still within their grasps.  The Steelers have lost 4 of 5, while the Bengals have won 5 of their last 6 games.  The Bengals are currently 1 game ahead of the Steelers in the standings and if the season ended today would be the 6th seed in the AFC playoffs.  During the Bengals current hot streak the defense has been the difference.  In the past 6 games no team has scored more than 20 points and in their 5 wins they haven’t allowed more than 13 points.  The Steelers on the other hand have allowed at least 20 points in their last 4 games, losing 3 of them.

Offensive Player to Watch: A.J. Green, Wide Receiver
A.J. Green is the best player and biggest threat on the entire Bengals team.  He ranks 1st in the NFL in receiving touchdown, 7th in receiving yards and 8th in catches.  In the 1st meeting this season, Green had an 8 yard touchdown catch in the 2nd quarter to give the Bengals a 14-3 lead.  That was his only catch of the game, as Ike Taylor shadowed him all might and played arguably his best game of the season.  The Steelers won’t have Ike to match-up with Green this week, as he is still out with a broken ankle.  The Steelers will be calling on Keenan Lewis with the help of double teams from others on Sunday to shut down Green.

Defensive Player to Watch: Vontaze Burfict, Linebacker
Burfect, a rookie out of Arizona State, is the Bengals 2nd leading tackler on the year with 101.  Burfict did not become a starter in Cincinnati until the 3rd game of the season, and only then after starting linebacker Thomas Howard was placed on season ending IR.  In the 1st game against the Steelers he was a ball hawk, account for 15 tackles, including 2 behind the line of scrimmage.

Strengths: Cincinnati Running Game
Maybe the biggest key to the Bengals recent success is the fact the running game has finally been producing consistently.  In the last 5 games BenJarvus Green-Ellis has run for over 100 yards in 4 of them.  The lone game that he did not, is the only loss for the Bengals since the 1st week of November.  The success of the running game has taken the pressure off of Andy Dalton and the passing game and has also brought some balance to the Bengals offense.

Weaknesses: Wide Receiver Depth
As good as A.J. Green has been this year, the rest of the Bengals WR Corps has been really bad.  Nobody else has stepped up and that allows teams to focus on Green with double coverage and shifts to his side.  Green leads the team with 85 catches, no other wide receiver has more than 45.  The player with the 2nd most catches is tight end Jermaine Gresham.  Going against a banged up Steelers defense, if the Bengals can find 1 or 2 other guys to step up on Sunday, it could cause big problems for the Steeler defense.

He Said It:
“I don’t know that our mindset is much different than it was then. We know the importance of every game and we’ve taken that approach since the bye week, after the Steelers game, and we know that each game and the ramifications of it.” – Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis on the mindset of his team and the importance of this game.

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