The Cincinnati Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a crucial matchup of AFC North hopefuls. The Bengals got back on track last week against the Raiders after their bye week, and look to assert themselves as favorites to win the AFC North.
Big Ben and Burrow will both look to their running games
Ben Roethlisberger comes into week 12 after an impressive performance against the Chargers. He threw for 3 touchdowns on 273 yards and did not throw an interception. However, the super-charged L.A. offense turned the game into a shoot-out, and Big Ben needed to air it out. This week in Cincinnati I am expecting a more run-centric approach from the Steelers, led by rookie workhorse Najee Harris. Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt will be back in the lineup for the Steelers D, and I believe they will at least slow down the Bengals offense.
Prolific young QB Joe Burrow will be okay with this type of game script. In their Week 11 blowout of the Raiders, Burrow threw just 29 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown. Joe Mixon was instead the focal point of the offense, rushing 30 times for 123 yards. Mixon added 2 rushing TDs to his stat line, and the Bengals defense held Vegas to under 300 yards of total offense. Expect to see Mixon carry the offense yet again, and count on Burrow to be clutch and strategic in the passing game.
Stat of the game
If the game script plays out as I anticipate, then whichever team can convert on third down will come out on top. Both teams will count on their defensive acumen, and establish their rushing attacks to sustain long drives. Third downs will mean everything.
This will prove more of a problem for the Steelers. The Bengals come into Week 12 ranked 6th in rush defense, and the Steelers offensive line has struggled all year to open lanes for Najee Harris. I foresee too many 3rd and 7’s or 3rd and 11’s for the Steelers to consistently convert. Further, defenses love a 3rd and long to allow their d-line to rush with reckless abandon. I see Roethlisberger getting sacked at least four times on Sunday.
The Steelers rush defense is ranked 27th and even allowed Justin Herbert to rush for 90 yards. Granted, they were missing Fitzpatrick and Watt against the Chargers, but they allowed 130 yards to D’Andre Swift a week earlier. I predict the Bengals to use a variety of rushing plays. Joe Mixon will get 4-7 yards on the early downs, and it will open up the Cincinnati playbook to convert on a lot of 3rd and manageable.
The X-factors: Cam Heyward and Ja’Marr Chase
If the Steelers hope to win this game, I believe they will need a takeaway from their defense. Eleven-year veteran lineman Cam Heyward can be that catalyst. He may not get the turnover himself, but look for Hayward to wreak havoc in the pass rush, or tip a ball at the line of scrimmage. A tipped ball interception or strip-sack could be a momentum shift in the game. If the Bengals can avoid one of these mistakes, however, I do not believe the Steelers will win.
You cannot talk about the Cincinnati Bengals anymore without mentioning rookie-of-the-year candidate Ja’Marr Chase. Chase already has 867 receiving yards this year along with 8 touchdowns. Two of those TDs came against the Steelers in Week 3. Chase ranks sixth in the NFL in receiving yards and is the only rookie in the top 10. If Joe Burrow can find Ja’Marr Chase on a couple of big plays early in the game, everything I said about the game script may just be thrown out the window.
This game will give us all a taste of playoff football; you could pick any storyline you want that adds to the gravity of this game. There is the grizzled veteran QB vs. the up-and-comer trying to assert himself as an elite passer. There are tough, established defenses representing the tough, established franchises of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. And again there’s Ja’Marr Chase, who has the ability to take the game over on his quest to win the ROTY.
This will be a hard-fought AFC North tilt. I believe Joe Burrow will show the maturity of a young QB who knows how to close out games. When you factor in the running games, the edge has to be with the Bengals. The Steelers will definitely keep it close, but the Bengals win this crucial game 27-21.