By Christina Rivers

The Cincinnati Bengals took control of the AFC North after defeating the Cleveland Browns, 37-3, on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. Quarterback Andy Dalton’s 107.4 passer rating currently leads the NFL. This 2015 Bengals squad is the first to go 10-2 on the regular season for the first time in four decades and have been efficient with Dalton at the helm under head coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals are currently holding the reins in the AFC as the post-season nears. Their week 14 meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers will be an even nastier contest with both teams putting an exclamation mark on their seasons.

Dalton-Green matchup has Bengals offense on fire

On Sunday, Dalton joined Peyton Manning in the 3,000 passing yards per season club and joined Ben Roethlisberger (51), Matt Ryan (56), Joe Flacco (54) as the only quarterbacks to win 50 games in their first five seasons in the league (since the 1970 merger). The win was Dalton’s 24th on the road, the most of any quarterback in his first five seasons since 1970. Finishing with a 146.8 rating, Dalton had his second-best game (career) by completing 14-of-19 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

A.J. Green has been Dalton’s primary target this season. The duo combined for 128 yards on five hookups for one touchdown. On the season, Dalton has found Green 70 times for 1,037 yards and seven touchdowns. Green and Dalton came into this season with the most interceptions for a combo since 2011, but their chemistry this season is unmistakable.

Bengals ranked tenth in total defense

Cincinnati has played aggressive defense in 2015. They are only allowing opponents an average of 16.3 points and 337.5 yards of offense per game. A big reason for their success has been due to their ability to garner 32.0 sacks and snag 15 interceptions. The Bengals have been petitioning to have Geno Atkins named the Defensive Player of the Year due to his 23 tackles, eight sacks, and one forced fumble. Atkins has been complimented by the play of Carlos Dunlap, who has 9.5 sacks of his own from the defensive end position.

It isn’t just the defensive front that has played well this season. Reggie Nelson has recorded seven interceptions for the Bengals from the free safety position for 115 yards. Leon Hall and Adam Jones have two picks apiece, one of which Hall returned for six points.

Bengals players to watch

Much like their first meeting on November 1 (week 8), the Steelers will need to keep an eye on tight end Tyler Eifert who has been chewing up opposing defenses by earning 11.3 yards-per-reception on 46 catches this season to lead Cincinnati with 12 touchdowns. He is most dangerous while in the seam.

On defense, Pittsburgh’s offensive line will have their hands full once again in protecting Ben Roethlisberger. They will need to watch for linebacker A.J. Hawk and nose tackle Domata Peko who together have combined for five total sacks.

Final Thoughts

The Steelers got back on track offensively Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts and will push the Bengals in the defensive backfield with possibly the best receiving trio in the NFL in Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton. With Heath Miller still a question mark, Jesse James is an option at tight end to add blocking help as well as an outlet in the pass. DeAngelo Williams has proven to not only be an effective rusher, but a viable option in the passing game.

These two teams have weapons on both sides of the ball. The winner will likely be the team that executes with the least number of mistakes and penalties and creates turnovers that translate to points on the scoreboard.

The Bengals beat Pittsburgh by a mere six points the last time these two teams met. It was against Cincinnati that the Steelers lost running back Le’Veon Bell for the season. This week’s game looks to be another battle that will put players’ bodies to the test as gritty, hard-nosed play continues for a full 60 minutes. The Bengals are favored to win, but the Steelers would love nothing more than to come away as spoilers.

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.