Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in familiar territory, squeezing into the playoffs as the sixth seed and challenging the AFC North-champion Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card round. The Steelers made the most of that situation 10 years ago by winning the Super Bowl, and it’s a path they’d like to travel again when they visit Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday.
Pittsburgh’s high-octane offense looks to lead the way as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday in a 28-12 victory over Cleveland. Antonio Brown (career-high 136 receptions and 1,834 yards) had 187 yards versus the Browns on 13 catches, but he totaled that many receptions as the Steelers and Bengals each claimed a road contest in the series. While Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have won four of five to enter the playoffs, the Bengals are making their fifth consecutive postseason appearance with a question under center. While second-year backup AJ McCarron is expected to play on Saturday, Andy Dalton is inching toward a return – perhaps as early as next week should Cincinnati advance – after fracturing his thumb in the Bengals’ 33-20 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 13.
ABOUT THE STEELERS (10-6): While Pittsburgh’s vaunted aerial attack is raring to go, its rushing game could be a sore spot as veteran DeAngelo Williams’ ankle injury may play a major role on Saturday. Williams (team-leading 907 yards, 11 touchdowns) is listed as day-to-day while coach Mike Tomlin reportedly is considering Fitzgerald Toussaint (42 yards) and journeyman Jordan Todman (22 yards) in the gameplan. The Steelers only have to look to their first-round contest last year, when the absence of Le’Veon Bell led to a limited ground attack – and an early exit at the hands of arch-rival Baltimore.
ABOUT THE BENGALS (12-4): A.J. Green reeled in a season-high 11 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati’s 16-10 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 1 before adding six catches for 132 yards and a score in the latter meeting. While Green led the team with 86 receptions and 1,297 yards, his 10 touchdowns were only eclipsed by tight end Tyler Eifert (13). Jeremy Hill overcame a sluggish start to record six touchdowns in his last seven games, but he was limited to just 76 yards on 22 carries collectively in two meetings with the Steelers.
1. Pittsburgh T Marcus Gilbert originally tweeted on Dec. 13 that he “would love to see (the Bengals) in the playoffs where they choke.” The tweet has since been deleted.
2. Bengals S Reggie Nelson finished tied with Kansas City rookie CB Marcus Peters for the league lead with eight interceptions.
3. The Steelers registered 48 sacks, good enough for the third-highest total in the league.
LINE: Steelers -2.5
PREDICTION: Steelers 27, Bengals 17