In a surprising twist, both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals will be watching at home when the playoffs start. Pittsburgh was labeled as a playoff contender before the season began and after a 4-1 start by Cincinnati, it seemed that the Bengals would be making their return to the postseason. After injuries piled up for both teams, the Baltimore Ravens surged in the second half of the season and they could win the division on Sunday by beating the Browns.
A Look Back
The Bengals (6-9) lost to the Browns by the score of 26-18, marking the first time since 2002 that Cleveland swept the battle of Ohio. After falling behind early, the Jeff Driskel-led comeback fell just short and the Bengals picked up their 9th loss of the season. The Bengals official twitter account couldn’t even hold it together.
UPDATE: 😫 https://t.co/gZZE5IYqRw
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 23, 2018
The Steelers (8-6-1) were defeated by the New Orleans Saints, 31-28. The run game couldn’t keep up despite big games from Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster. They lost control of their playoff destiny, and the only way they can make the postseason is by beating Cincinnati and hoping for a Baltimore loss.
— Elite Andy Dalton (@EvilAndyDalton) December 24, 2018
The Bengals roster is still banged up, with Tyler Boyd, Vontaze Burfict, Jordan Evans and Dre Kirkpatrick all not expected to play this week. Injuries have continued to plague the Bengals, and it’s one of the major reasons why their season flipped around so quickly.
For the Steelers, the one player on everyone’s minds is James Conner. Conner had played amazing after filling in for Le’Veon Bell, rushing for 909 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games. The Steelers have struggled while he’s been out, with just a 1-2 record. He’s been non-committal about playing against the Bengals, and it’s certainly something to monitor as the week progresses.
Matchups to Watch For
William Jackson III vs. Antonio Brown – William Jackson III has been amazing lately after a rough start to the season, justifying his first-round draft pick pedigree. He’s going to have his hands full with Brown. Antonio Brown had another amazing game last week, racking up 185 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Jackson needs to limit the impact of #84 if the Bengals have any chance on winning.
In Weeks 12-15 (four games), #Bengals' William Jackson III earned an 82.3 overall grade, ranking 5th among the 98 cornerbacks with 100+ defensive snaps in the four-week span.
— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) December 21, 2018
C.J. Uzomah vs. T.J. Watt – After Tyler Eifert was lost for the season, C.J. Uzomah has played well, accumulating 433 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s going to have to continue his strong play against the Steelers’ T.J. Watt, who has an underrated ability to cover tight ends. If Uzomah can get open, it makes life much easier for Jeff Driskel and the rest of the Bengals offense.
Keys to Victory
Put the Ball in Joe Mixon’s Hands – Joe Mixon has quickly proved himself as an elite running back, rushing for over 1,000 yards in his first full season as a starter. He currently leads the AFC in rushing yards, and he’s the best offensive weapon that the Bengals have left.
1,000-yard rushers this season:
and Joe Mixon. 🔥
— Elite Andy Dalton (@EvilAndyDalton) December 23, 2018
Good Playcalling – The Bengals defense has been terrible this year, and injuries have just made things worse. The Steelers offense is going to be energized in a must-win game, and Marvin Lewis should try to get creative instead of throwing out the same old formations and coverages.
This game doesn’t look like it’s going to be close, with the Steelers playing for their playoff lives and the Bengals playing uninspired football. At home, Pittsburgh should start off hot, scoring on their first few drives. The Bengals should try to run the ball early and often in order to control the clock, and keep Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines.
Bengals – 17
Steelers – 28
With a loss, the Bengals will have their first 10-loss season since 2010. They essentially started over after that season, drafting Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to begin a new era of Cincinnati Football. The Bengals should start over after this season as well, but the changes should come with the head coach.
Every coach on this list has a Super Bowl win and at least 7 playoff wins..
..except for Marvin Lewis. pic.twitter.com/6mJBxOhGPI
— Cincinnati 💔 (@CincyProblems) December 23, 2018