The Bengals could lock up a wildcard position in this year's playoffs with a win Sunday against the Steelers. Meanwhile, the Steelers could all but lock up a wildcard position by beating the Bengals. In short, the 6th seed in the AFC playoffs will likely be decided this weekend.
While the Steelers trail the Bengals in the wildcard race by one game, they aren't in a powerless position. The Steelers beat the Bengals in their first meeting this season, giving the Steelers the potential tie-breaker if they win on Sunday. The other point to consider is that the Bengals play the Ravens in week 17, while the Steelers play the Browns. Although Cleveland beat Pittsburgh in week 12, don't expect it to happen again.
With the last wildcard spot in the AFC likely being decided this weekend, the bulk of the pressure will fall on the two quarterbacks. Andy Dalton shocked everyone by proving to be the most pro-ready quarterback in last year's draft. On the other sideline, Ben Roethlisberger has won a pair of Super Bowls out of his three Super Sunday appearances, and he's widely considered one of the league's best quarterbacks. Advantage Pittsburgh.
The Bengals will need a variety of facets of Sunday's game to fall in their favor if they have any hope of beating the Steelers. They have to be able to control turnovers. The Steelers haven't been taking the ball away much of late, but it only takes one or two big plays from that defense to blow the game wide open.
The Bengals will also need to contain Ben Roethlisberger. My theory with Roethlisberger has always been one of containment, not complete prevention. When you try to outright prevent Roethlisberger from making plays, you tend to miss something, giving up one or two massive plays. By containing him to the pocket, you limit those opportunities, and you give your secondary a chance to make plays.
Big games are what the Steelers play for. They're almost always in a position to make the postseason, and that's the case because they make big plays when it matters most. That's the type of football you can expect from Pittsburgh on Sunday, and that's the type of football the Bengals will have to be able to match to knock off the Steelers. Look, this is very nearly a de-facto playoff game, and it's the best matchup for my money on this weekend's slate of games.