Originally written December 20, 2012 on Three-Way Chili:
If we were doing the “confidence points” thing that is popular in college bowl pools – from 1-10 with 10 being the most confident I could possibly be about the Bengals beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh this Sunday … I would go with a 3.5. I don’t think it’s some insurmountable challenge – the 2012 Steelers are just not very good – but they’ll probably use their Jedi mind tricks over the Bengals and beat them as usual. However, the Bengals have some things going for them – like one of the best defensive lines in the NFL (more on that later) – and a win wouldn’t completely shock me. So, I’m going with a 3.5 for my confidence points for now. Interestingly, that is also the point spread of this game in which Cincinnati can clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win. The spread actually opened at 4.5 points in favor of Pittsburgh, but the money is going the Bengals’ way. Intriguing, indeed. Hopefully my instinct is off on this one because it would not only be nice to make the playoffs for the third time in four years, it would be sweet to do it at Heinz Field in front of the Pittsburgh faithful. About That D-Line How good is the Bengals’ defensive front? Well, this pretty much sums it up: From everything I’ve gathers, the coaches think very highly of second-round pick Devon Still and third-rounder Brandon Thompson – both defensive tackles – but they have been inactive the last several weeks because there simply isn’t room for them in the rotation right now. The Bengals carry nine defensive linemen and there is only space for seven to suit up on game days. So, you have a second-round pick and a third-round pick, both who the coaches like, who can't even see the field because of the quality depth. The Magnificent Seven includes third-year DT Geno Atkins – who is the second-best player on the entire team in my opinion, behind only wide receiver/freak A.J. Green. (Both former Georgia players as well, which is the case with half the Bengals’ roster. Alright, “only” six players on the active roster hail from UGA.) Atkins might be the best pass-rushing D-tackle in the NFL and has racked up 10.5 sacks this season. He made the Pro Bowl last year, will so again this year and is set for a huge payday this offseason. And the former fourth-round pick (what a steal) is a restricted free agent after this year, so I’m confident he’ll be back in Cincinnati. Fourth-year DE Michael Johnson, a former third-round pick, is having himself a career-year with 8.5 sacks. The rest of the D-line includes DT Domata Peko, DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Wallace Gilberry, DE Robert Geathers and DT Pat Sims. Gilberry is a fifth-year pro that the Bengals plucked off the waiver wire and he has five sacks for the season. After a slow start, Dunlap has played extremely well of late and has 4.5 sacks on the year. Peko is not a guy that is going to put up big stats – which can be said for a lot of good DT’s – but he’s been his usual steady self. Geathers is versatile enough to slide down to tackle on passing downs and the veteran has three sacks on the season. If there is a better D-line in the NFL from top-to-bottom, I’d love to see it. I’m talking about literally from 1-9. The defensive line is the clear strength of the Bengals’ entire team this season. The group is the biggest reason Cincinnati heads to Pittsburgh with an 8-6 record and a chance to taste the  postseason once again. By the way, if the Bengals win this Sunday and the Ravens lose to the Giants, the Bengals will host the Ravens for the AFC North championship on Dec. 30. I’ll admit I never thought the Bengals would be in this position this season. I thought they’d take a small step backward and finish 8-8. But it’s been fun being wrong. (Well, let’s hope I’m wrong; still a chance they could finish 8-8 of course.) Also, I’ll be the one in Pittsburgh with my Bengals’ face paint on, likely shirtless. Hell naw. It’s called the TV in the man cave and that’s exactly where I’ll be to watch this one. Who Freakin’ Dey!
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