Game Scout: Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) At Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1)
SERIES HISTORY: 97th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 61-35. The Steelers have won the past seven and 10 of the past 11. The Steelers have won four of the past five at Heinz Field. The previous time the Steelers lost to the Bengals was in November of 2015, a 16-10 loss at Heinz Field.
KEYS TO THE GAME: A few weeks ago, the Steelers made the mistake of not running against the Raiders, one of the league's worst run defenses. They'd be wise not to make the same mistake against the Bengals, a team that surrendered 112 yards on the ground to the Steelers when these two teams played in October. The Bengals are 29th in the league against the run and give up 142 yards per game on the ground. That doesn't mean the Steelers can't pass with success against the Bengals. They did in the first game when Ben Roethlisberger threw for 368 yards. But they can control the game by running and will aim to do that again in the rematch especially with a defense that has been unable to hold leads the past few weeks.
The Steelers defense has to contain mobile quarterback Jeff Driskel, who has the ability to scramble and extend plays with his athleticism. This is the first time they will play against Driskel after competing for years against Andy Dalton, who is on injured reserve. Driskel won't have his best receiver in this game. A.J. Green also is on injured reserve, so the Steelers can't allow him to get out of the pocket. Head coach Mike Tomlin is worried about the unknown with so many new Bengals players playing more prominent roles in the offense. In previous meetings against the Bengals the Steelers knew they had to account for Green. But without Green, the Bengals are much less predictable in certain situations.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion), CB Tony McRae (hamstring)
--DOUBTFUL: LB Vince Williams (toe)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Antonio Brown (not injury related, knee), RB James Conner (ankle), S Sean Davis (quadriceps)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Bengals CB William Jackson. Brown had five catches for 105 yards in the first game of the season against the Bengals, including a 31-yard touchdown with 10 seconds remaining that gave the Steelers a 28-21 victory. Jackson was not in coverage on the final play of the game. The Steelers moved Brown into the slot to get him away from Jackson, who did a nice job of limiting Brown's effectiveness throughout most of that game. Watch for the Steelers to move Brown around again to get away from Jackson, one of the top young corners in the AFC.
--Steelers OLB T.J. Watt vs. Bengals T Bobby Hart. Watt leads the Steelers with 12 sacks and four forced fumbles. He'll be going against Hart, who has struggled in pass protection. Watt has played some of his best football at the end of the season. He has five sacks in the past seven games, including sacks of Tom Brady and Drew Brees in the past two.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster was crushed when he fumbled deep in New Orleans territory late in the game when the Steelers had a chance to tie or win against the Saints. But that turnover is one of the few mistakes Smith-Schuster has made this season. He has developed into one of the NFL's best receivers. He is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,389) and became the third player in franchise history to reach 100 receptions in a season. He joined Antonio Brown and Hines Ward as the only other Steelers to reach the 100-catch mark in a single season.
FAST FACTS: BENGALS QB JEFF DRISKEL had 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs & career-high 123.4 rating in Week 16. Has 108.9 rating in 3 career road games. ... RB JOE MIXON has 596 scrimmage yards (119.2 per game) & 3 rush TDs in his past 5. Had 84 scrimmage yards & rush TD in last meeting. Is 1 of 2 AFC RBs (PHILLIP LINDSAY) with 1,000+ rush yards (1,063) & 8+ rush TDs (8) in 2018. Is 1 of 3 AFC players (MELVIN GORDON & TYREEK HILL) with 5+ games of 130+ scrimmage yards in 2018. ... WR JOHN ROSS had TD catch in Week 16. Has 4 rec. TDs in his past 5 on road. ... TE C.J. UZOMAH had rec. TD in Week 16, his 5th-career TD. ... DT GENO ATKINS has 3 sacks & 4 TFL in his past 5. Since entering NFL in 2010, leads all DTs with 71 sacks. Is 1 of 5 with 9+ sacks in each of past 4 seasons. ... DE CARLOS DUNLAP has 4 TFL & 2 PD in his past 4 vs. Pit. ... Rookie S JESSIE BATES led team with 9 tackles last week. Ranks 3rd among safeties with 108 tackles in 2018. Is only rookie with 100+ tackles & 3+ INTs (3) this season. Bates & S SHAWN WILLIAMS (100 tackles) are the only safety teammates in NFL with 100+ tackles each. ... STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER passed for 380 yards & 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 108.8 rating last week. Had 369 pass yards & 1 TD vs. 0 INTs for 100.7 rating in last meeting. Is 6-0 with 92.7 rating in his past 6 starts vs. Cin. Leads NFL with 4,842 pass yards & needs 158 pass yards to become 6th player in NFL history with 5,000+ pass yards in single season. ... RB JAMES CONNER had 129 scrimmage yards (111 rush, 18 rec.) & 2 rush TDs in Week 6 meeting. ... WR ANTONIO BROWN had 14 catches for 185 yards & 2 TDs last week. Leads NFL with franchise-record 15 TD catches. Is 1st player in NFL history with 6-consecutive 100+ catch seasons. ... WR JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER had 11 catches for 115 yards in Week 16. Had 7 receptions for 111 yards in Week 6 meeting. Has 106 catches in 2018 & is youngest player in NFL history to reach 100 receptions in single season. ... LB T.J. WATT had sack last week. Has 6 sacks & 2 FFs in his past 5 at home. ... DE STEPHON TUITT has sack in 2 of his past 3.
PREDICTION: Last year, the Bengals knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs in Week 17 but then they had Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Too much is on the line for the Steelers to stumble at home against the worst team in the AFC North and it's likely Pittsburgh pulls away for a double-digit win.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 28-13