Bengals-Steelers Preview: AFC North Showdown!

The Bengals are two and one-half games ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC North, three games ahead in the loss column, with a chance to add a game by virtue of a victory Sunday in front of the Terrible Towel wavers. But, the Steelers are more desperate for a win.

WHAT: Bengals (6-0) at Steelers (4-3)

WHEN: Sunday, 1:00 p.m.

WHERE: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh


OVERVIEW: The Bengals are coming off a restful bye week, and they got stronger with a key player addition. They had just one player (Leon Hall) on this week's injury reports. This afternoon, they activated Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict to the roster. He was the Bengals' tackle leader in 2012-13, but hasn't played since Oct. 26 of last season when he suffered a knee injury that required January micro-fracture surgery. He is eligible to play Sunday, joining Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as notable returnees to the field following knee injuries. Roethlisberger was hurt Week 3. He is going to start on Sunday in his return to the field following a four-game absence.

While a healthy Big Ben and the Steelers have proved to be dangerous in the air, the Bengals own the league's fifth-best passing attack. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton passed for 546 yards and four touchdowns vs. Pittsburgh in two meetings last season. Not to be outdone, Roethlisberger lit up Cincinnati for 667 yards and five touchdowns in those games.

BENGALS KEYS: The question with Dalton is always about how he will stack up in marquee games, and this one certainly qualifies. The Steelers do enter with the league's 27th-ranked pass defense and a banged up secondary, so Dalton will have plenty of opportunities, so long as he avoids turnovers.

Getting RB Jeremy Hill going would be a great sign for the Bengals after the second-year back disappointed the first six games amid fumbling issues and ceded carries to the much more effective Giovani Bernard. The Bengals have enough weapons, especially with WR A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert to draw defenders out of the box, potentially allowing for more running room, but the Steelers have been stout against the run so far this season.

STEELERS KEYS: Coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger will not be limited, and speed isn't exactly the quarterback's top asset to begin with. The Bengals can get after the QB - 17 sacks in six games, led by Carlos Dunlap's 6.5 - so RB Le'Veon Bell is likely to be heavily involved as a runner and receiver, especially to give Roethlisberger some time to knock off any rust and gain confidence in his timing downfield.

MATCHUP: Bengals P Kevin Huber vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown: Brown is averaging a modest 8.9 yards per punt return this season, but all three of his career punt returns for touchdowns have come against the Bengals - and all of them have come at Heinz Field. Huber is fourth in the NFL with a 43.1-yard net average, and will do his best to angle Brown toward the sideline.

BENGALS FAST FACTS: They are 6-0 for the third time in franchise history and the first time since their 1988 AFC title team, but Pittsburgh has won eight of the past 10 meetings, including a sweep last season. No Bengals team has ever been 7-0.

Heinz Field is always a tough environment, but the Bengals are well-rested, having been on a Week 7 bye. The Bengals are 2 and one-half games ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC North Division standings, with a chance to add a full game by virtue of a win Sunday. That puts the Steelers in a near-must-win situation if they want to stay in the AFC playoff hunt. Two straight Pittsburgh wins and two Bengals losses in a row would pull the Steelers to within one-half game of the Bengals' division lead, so the divisional chase is far from over.

STEELERS FAST FACTS: This is the first of three consecutive home games for Pittsburgh, which is much more desperate for a win than the unbeaten Bengals. Steelers WR Martavis Bryant is the sixth player in NFL history to score 11-plus touchdowns through his first 12 career games. Bell is on pace for more than 1,200 yards rushing despite missing the first two games of the season due to NFL suspension.

Much was made of how much Brown missed Roethlisberger, but tight end Heath Miller was limited to four catches in the four games the quarterback missed after catching 12 passes through the first three games of the season. Miller bears watching Sunday. He has had some big games against the Bengals, who've been known previously to have a tough time accounting for tight ends in space and in the red zone.

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