Originally posted on Sports-Glory  |  Last updated 12/14/13

After reaching the postseason in each of his first two years as Cincinnati’s starting quarterback, Andy Dalton is currently positioned to lead the Bengals to a division crown and beyond wild-card weekend, but first, the cardiac cats will have to get past the Pittsburgh Steelers one more time. With a 9-4 record and a stranglehold on the AFC North lead, Cincinnati currently sits third in the conference playoff picture. But with a first-round bye still within reach, this weekend’s showdown in Steel Town against a team that has been playing much better recently holds even more significance. If successful in their attempt to sweep the season-series with the Steelers on Sunday and the Ravens are unable to solve Matt Stafford and the Detroit Lions on Monday night, Cincinnati will be rewarded with their first AFC North championship since the 2009 season. But behind what is likely to be Cincinnati’s third straight trip to the playoffs in as many seasons lies a complete team effort that’s clearly beginning to pay off. Not only has Dalton been successful in assuming a role that many, more highly-touted quarterbacks are unable to with years of practice, but the former TCU Horned Frog has transitioned almost seamlessly from his time as an NCAA gunslinger, and is in the midst of a career-year despite the somewhat modest statistical evidence. Through Cincinnati’s first 13 games, Dalton has amassed 3,419 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions with a passer rating of 87.7-not exactly jaw-dropping proof that the former second-round pick belongs among the NFL’s elite just yet. But it shouldn’t take an expert to point out the fact that the most significant aspect of Dalton’s progression in 2013 revolves around his ability to lead this football team into the upper-echelon of NFL franchises, rather than his ability, or lack thereof, to fill the stat sheet with Manning-like numbers. The Bengals took another step in the right direction during the 2013 NFL Draft when they chose to select running back Giovanni Bernard in the second round out of North Carolina, and in doing so, have added a new aspect to their rushing attack. Coupled with the aggressive and straight-forward style of Benjarvus Green-Ellis, the pair of Bengal backs have totaled over 1200 yards with 10 touchdowns on the ground and another three through the air while establishing themselves as a formidable tandem with the habit of frustrating opposing defenses. Since losing back-to-back overtime games on the road against the Miami Dolphins in week nine and the Baltimore Ravens the following week, Cincinnati has won three straight including two 40-plus point outbursts over the Cleveland Browns and the Indianapolis Colts. Surprisingly, one of the main contributors to Cincinnati’s recent winning streak has been an injury-plagued offensive line that hasn’t surrendered a single sack during the last three games, and could set a new team record with a repeat performance this week in Pittsburgh. In the absence of starting guard Clint Boling who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 13, pro-bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth has played extremely well outside of his natural position which has directly led to an improvement in Dalton’s overall safety and ability to stay on his feet. This week, Cincinnati will have the chance to improve upon their surprisingly dismal 3-4 record away from Paul Brown Stadium when they travel to Pittsburgh to face the aging Steelers. With all four of their losses this season coming on the road however, Sunday’s divisional tilt may be one to remember against a team that reigned supreme over the AFC North for generations, but is now little more than a spectator during their rival’s seemingly inevitable coronation. The post Cincinnati Bengals one step closer to AFC North crown appeared first on Sports Glory.

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