We’re getting down to the wire with just three games left, and the Bengals are hoping to make their final push to the postseason, and they’re doing it all without Joe Burrow.
The Bengals (8-6) are coming off three consecutive wins over the Jaguars, Colts, and the Vikings. Both the Jaguars and Vikings games were won in overtime. The Steelers (7-7) are coming off three straight losses and have replaced the Bengals at the bottom of the AFC North.
This game is crucial for both teams. The Bengals need to win in order to keep their grasp on one of the AFC’s wildcard spots, and the Steelers are trying to turn things around in the last few weeks of the season in hopes of getting back into the playoff picture.
The Bengals offense has looked as good as it has all season with Jake Browning under center. The backup quarterback turned starter is the first player since the 1950 season, when the stats began to be recorded, to throw for over 1,000 yards and complete more than 75% of his passes in his first four games as a starting quarterback in the league, according to Field Yates.
The Bengals have finally started to run the ball, and have found something that works in the combination of Joe Mixon and Chase Brown, the offensive line has played well, and Browning has had the best trio of wide receivers in the NFL to rely on.
I mean, come on.
Defensively, the Bengals have lost DJ Reader for the season, and Cam Taylor-Britt is on IR and unable to return until at least Week 17. However, without Reader, they still stuffed the Vikings on third-and-one and fourth-and-one “tush push” attempts from the Vikings in overtime, which saved the game for Cincinnati. They will miss Reader and CTB, but they have capable backups and good veteran leadership from guys like Mike Hilton, Sam Hubbard, Trey Hendrickson, Logan Wilson, BJ Hill, and Germaine Pratt.
The Steelers have struggled on offense. Kenny Pickett suffered a high ankle sprain and missed the last two weeks. His timetable for return is unclear, but it likely won’t be until Week 17, at the earliest.
Backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky started Weeks 14 and 15 but struggled badly and was benched in the team’s loss to the Colts. Head coach Mike Tomlin announced that if Pickett can’t play in Week 16, Mason Rudolph will get the starting nod.
Tomlin, after the Steelers lost to the Colts, said the Steelers are a “poor football team.”
“Let’s be honest, we’re a fundamentally poor football team right now,” he said. “We’re playing losing football, and I own that. I don’t necessarily have the answers today. If I did, we’d have played differently today. But I acknowledge things will not continue the way that they are.”
Defensively, the Steelers still employ TJ Watt, who leads the NFL in sacks with 16. There’s also future Hall of Famer Cam Heyward, veteran corner Patrick Peterson, and former Bengal Larry Ogunjobi. They gave Jake Browning and the Bengals offense fits in Week 12, a game that the Bengals infamously only attempted eight runs.
The Steelers will be hurting at safety this week. All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick left the game against the Colts with a knee injury and has already been ruled out this week, while fellow starting safety Damontae Kazee is out due to a suspension.
It’s safe to say neither team is the same as they were when they last met. Browning and the Bengals offense has been rolling, and the Steelers offense has suffered from poor play from backup quarterbacks.
Hopefully, the trend continues.
Game: Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cincinnati Bengals
Location: Acrisure Stadium
Time: 4:30 PM ET on December 23
TV Channel: NBC/WLWT
Radio: 102.7 WEBN, SiriusXM
Opening Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has the Bengals -1.5.
How do you see this one playing out? Let us know in the comments section!