The Bengals are on to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, but they have not won a playoff game since 1990. It's against the hated Steelers in prime time, giving the Bengals a trifecta of demons to overcome. On to the questions......
Historically, where does this rank among all time Bengals games?
You would think it ranks behind their two Super Bowl appearances, but it's been so long since they have won a playoff game I would say it ranks up there as the biggest game in team history. Nobody even remembers those two games against the 49ers (unless you are old like us), but everyone remembers Marvin Lewis is 0-6 in the playoffs. They need to win this game.
The last time these two teams met, Bengals starting QB Andy Dalton left the game early with a broken thumb. The good news is that back up AJ McCarron got some quality reps against a Steeler defense that has been prone to some lapses. Should this a plus and what does AJ need to do to win this game?
It's definitely not a plus. While Dalton is 0-4 in the post season, he is miles ahead of McCarron with his line reads. In a playoff game that could end up being vital, especially against a blitzing team like Pittsburgh. That being said, AJM (how I will refer to McCarron) is a smart player, and everyone in Cincinnati to a man says he has the "it" factor. Adam Jones says he can tell a winner when he sees one, and he says AJM is one. To win this game he must stay away from the turnovers, and in his three starts he has only committed one so far (late in the game at Denver). He has played well, and if he can continue to to be error-free or close to it, the Bengals have a real chance.
Bad blood spilled onto the field in the last matchup, as you feared it may. Is it going to happen again?
I'd like to sit here and say the Bengals will keep their cool, but I don't know that is possible. The hope is they don't do anything to draw 15-yard penalties, but I think that's going to be in store for both teams. I would imagine the NFL has already spoken to both Mike Tomlin and Lewis, so we'll see what happens. They put this game in prime time for a reason.
What is the most important area of this game the Bengals need to control in order to advance to the next round?
I wish there was just one, but really it's three. Run the football effectively, don't finish on the negative side of the turnover battle, and keep AJM clean. As of now there is a strong chance this game could be impacted by heavy rain, and that should favor the Bengals if DeAngelo Williams misses the game (and it looks like he might). It's very important to take some pressure of AJM and keep him upright. The Bengals are one play away from Keith Wenning playing QB, and you would have to google him to even know who he is. That's not good.
Heath Miller has torched the Bengals. What can they do to slow him down?
The Bengals will try to put safety Shawn Williams on Miller, but even though Miller has 20 receptions in two games versus CIN, I think he's the least of their worries. Pittsburgh will get their yards, but as long as the Bengals can limit the big plays to Brown and Bryant, they will be okay with the Miller receptions.
So here it is. The 3rd meeting, a playoff game, and in prime time. How does this one play out?
On paper, this game looks in the Steelers favor, but in reality it isn't. Fact of the matter is, Ben R. has not played all that great in two games against Cincinnati, and AJM now has three starts under his belt with two pretty good running backs behind him. He also gets Tyler Eifert, who the Steelers knocked out early in the last match. The Steelers struggle against the TE position, and A.J. Green has had a field day with that secondary. Call me crazy, but I think the Bengals end the drought. They run the ball well enough and AJM makes some big plays.
Bengals win 24-23 and cover the spread (+3)