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Bengal Bytes (12/21): They're in

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For the fifth year in a row, the Bengals have punched their ticket to the playoffs. The Steelers needed a huge second half to come back at home against the Broncos.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals clinch playoff berth with 24-14 win over 49ers | ProFootballTalk
Anyone worried about how the Bengals offense would do without quarterback Andy Dalton didn't get much to assuage their fears on Sunday afternoon, but a fitful day on that side of the ball wasn't enough to keep them from clinching a playoff spot with a win.

No one showed up at Levi's Stadium to watch Bengals-49ers - The Sports Daily
San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York upset players and fans alike with some recent moves to shake up the front office, and Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals was proof of that.

Blanket Coverage: Best fits for the NFL’s most likely coaching openings | SI.com
Best fit: Hue Jackson, Bengals offensive coordinator. He’s an outside-the-box thinker that runs a multiple offense, and he’s certainly a progressive thinker on that side of the ball.

AJ McCarron up, running backs down in Bengals' win
As first career starts go, McCarron's went well. Not only did he lead the Bengals to a win, but he helped them earn a playoff berth, too. Coach Marvin Lewis said McCarron managed the game well for a Bengals team that was looking for a solid outing following starter Andy Dalton's injury last week. Although sacked four times, McCarron was 15-for-21 on 192 yards. He also had a passing touchdown to go along with his 115.6 passer rating.

AJ McCarron snaps 25-year NFL winless drought for ex-Tide QBs
Making his first career start, McCarron helped the Bengals clinch a playoff berth and snapped a 13-game losing streak for former Alabama quarterbacks in games they started, a streak that began in 1987. McCarron, a 2014 fifth-round pick, was starting in place of Andy Dalton, who hurt his right thumb in last week's loss to the Steelers.

AJ McCarron starts strong, leads Bengals to playoff-clinching win
One week after his replacement effort fell short in the Cincinnati Bengals' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, McCarron rallied the Bengals past the San Francisco 49ers in a 24-14 win in his first career start Sunday. After his fellow former Alabama quarterbacks had compiled an 0-13 record in NFL games they had started coming into this one, McCarron improved his personal career tally to 1-0. It comes after he had a 36-4 record as a starter in college, and won two national championships.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos December 20, 2015
The Steelers controlled the second half, finally taking the lead when Ryan Shazier intercepted Brock Osweiler to set up a 23-yard dart from Roethlisberger to Brown with 3:34 to go. Pittsburgh's defense made it stand up, twice stopping the Broncos over the final minutes

NFL / Boxing

NFL believes Odell Beckham Jr. should have been ejected - Sportsnaut.com
The New York Giants playoff hopes are already hanging by a thread. And if the NFL comes down with what wouldn’t be a surprising punishment sometime this week, said playoff hopes could take another hit.

OBJ And The Panthers Cornerbacks Are Staging A Boxing Match In The Middle Of A Football Game
Odell Beckham Jr.’s matchup today with Josh Norman, perhaps the best corner in the game this year, is one of the coolest one-on-one matchups we’ve seen all year. On the Giants’ fourth play from scrimmage, Beckham burned Norman, and then dropped a perfectly good touchdown. A few plays later in the quarter, he and Norman got into the above fight after getting a little too close.

Peyton Manning, Broncos refute notion of starter-status demands
Just over two weeks ago, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning expressed his frustration over reports of how his rehab for his injured foot was going or what his plans were for the rest of this season and even 2016. On Sunday night, following the Broncos' 34-27 loss to the Pittsburgh, Manning was even more emphatic. A report Sunday morning said Manning had expressed to the Broncos he did not want to be the team's backup, whether it was in practice as he works to return to the field or in games.