In a game that could decide not only the AFC North, but also the conference’s final wild card spot, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
The Bengals are a game up on the 7-7 Steelers, but Pittsburgh has the edge after beating Cincinnati in Week 7. A win for the Steelers on Sunday and the Indianapolis Colts, who currently hold the No. 5 seed, and the Bengals could be out.
But a win for the Bengals could also put them in line for the division crown. Should they win at Pittsburgh and Baltimore loses to the New York Giants, Cincinnati could steal the division from the Ravens in their season finale in Week 17.
The Bengals are capable of such a feat, as they’re one of the hottest teams in the league, winning five of their last six games behind a dominant pass rush and defensive tackle Geno Atkin’s team-high 10.5 sacks.
The Bengals lead the league with 43 sacks, and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s game plan may revolve around attacking Pittsburgh third-year center Maurkice Pouncey, along with rookie guard David DeCastro and guard Ramon Foster.
DeCastro, who was Pittsburgh’s top draft choice this year, was activated back on Nov. 26 after suffering a knee injury during training camp, and has appeared in two games, making one start. His inexperience could be a huge advantage for the Bengals.
Fourth-year guard Ramon Foster filled in for DeCastro, and has started all but one game this season. But Foster’s duty is not done yet, as he’ll replace Willie Colon, who Pittsburgh placed on injured reserve this week after missing the last three games with a knee injury. Foster will be lined up against Atkins, perhaps the toughest assignment on the field.
The Steelers offensive line is still adjusting since DeCastro made his debut, giving up six sacks in their last two games and losing both. Still Roethlisberger has managed to throw for 624 yards and five touchdowns.
Another good sign for Pittsburgh comes from their Week 7 match up with the Bengals. The Steelers are 26th in the league in rushing, but managed to gain 167 rushing yards in their 24-17 win. That's uncharacteristic of a Cincinnati club giving up just 101 rushing yards per contest.