Much is at stake as the two teams inch closer toward playoff berths. For the Bengals, every win going forward is crucial in keeping pace with the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots for the AFC's top seeds in the playoffs. All three teams enter Week 14 at 10-2 and could go anywhere from being the No. 1 seed with home-field advantage through the playoffs to having to play in the Wild Card round and possibly two road games just to get to the Super Bowl.
As for the Steelers, any road to the Super Bowl likely will be on the road as they're three games behind in the AFC North race at 7-5. They're tied for one of the final Wild Card spots, and it was 10 years ago Pittsburgh won three road postseason games en route to a Super Bowl 40 win. They have the firepower to do it again for Super Bowl 50, but a loss to the Bengals here would be a tough blow to their playoff hopes.
As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling points out, Pittsburgh's offense is operating at a historic rate thanks to the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown:
Per NFL Research, the Steelers' 2,116 yards over the past four games are second only to the 1982 "Air Coryell" Chargers for most ever in a four-game span.
Throwing better than ever while relentlessly attacking downfield, Roethlisberger leads all NFL quarterbacks in points per drive (2.66), yards per attempt (8.9) and completions of 40-plus yards (15).
If he hadn't missed four games due to injuries, Roethlisberger would be in the MVP picture alongside Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Carson Palmer.
The gold standard of route runners, Antonio Brown's recent history looks like a section out of Jerry Rice's prime. No other receiver comes close to Brown's 332 receptions and 4,506 yards over the past three years.
But don't sleep on the Bengals offense either. They're now playing at as good of a level as they've reached Andy Dalton era, and they're who Pro Football Focus ranks as the fourth-best offense in addition to Cincinnati ranked as the third-best team:
ESPN's FPI model has the Bengals ranked as the fourth-best team with only one AFC team ranked higher than them, the New England Patriots, who are the second-ranked club. They also have the Steelers ranked sixth with this week's matchup between the two division rivals getting an 87 FPI rating, easily the highest of any Week 14 game.
They're viewing the Bengals as a slightly better team, and the guys at Odds Shark have them being a slight favorite. The Bengals are currently 2.5-point favorites going into Sunday, and here are the most notable betting trends regarding these two teams:
- Pittsburgh is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games
- Pittsburgh is 15-8 SU in its last 23 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 7 of Pittsburgh's last 10 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Pittsburgh's last 6 games on the road
- Cincinnati is 6-1 ATS in its last 7 games
- Cincinnati is 10-2 SU in its last 12 games
- The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Cincinnati's last 6 games
- Cincinnati is 5-1-1 ATS in its last 7 games at home
- Cincinnati is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games when playing Pittsburgh
- Cincinnati is 3-8 SU in its last 11 games when playing Pittsburgh
- The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Cincinnati's last 8 games when playing Pittsburgh
- Pittsburgh is 9-2 ATS in its last 11 games when playing on the road against Cincinnati
- Pittsburgh is 12-2 SU in its last 14 games when playing on the road against Cincinnati
The experts at numberFire and Team Rankings expect the Bengals to cover that 2.5-point spread. numberFire projects the Bengals to win by an average score of 26.3 - 21.8, while Team Rankings projects an average score of 25.7-23.0.
As for picks, most experts are siding with the Bengals in this one. CBS Sports' Pete Prisco is going with the Bengals in hard-fought, one-score win:
The Bengals are now the top seed in the AFC. They are playing good football. Pittsburgh is rolling on offense with Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game. This will be a tough challenge for the Bengals. But they will be up to it. They clinch the division.
The Pick: Bengals 31, Steelers 24
Prisco is also intrigued to see how well Bengals receiver A.J. Green matches up with the Steelers secondary:
7. Bengals receiver A.J. Green vs. the Steelers secondary: In nine games against the Steelers, Green has 63 catches and five touchdowns. He has 29 catches in his last four against them. And the Steelers have issues in the secondary. Just look at what Russell Wilson did to them two weeks ago. Green could be in for a big day.
Here's how the rest of the experts see this one playing out: