Week 3 Preview: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

To deny this week's game as anything less than absolutely important would be an understatement. The Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Cincinnati Bengals in what could be the first big step toward capturing their second straight AFC North title and 3rd straight divisional title.

The Steelers are already 1/2 game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens and 1 1/2 games ahead of both the Cleveland Browns and Bengals. Should the Steelers exit this week with a victory, they could very well find themselves directly in the driver's seat. The Browns visit San Francisco and the Ravens travel to San Diego. In both contests, the possibility of a win doesn't bode well for the visiting team.

The Browns and Bengals can't afford to start 0 – 3 and fall 2 1/2 games behind, just as much as the Ravens must do what they can and stay as close to the Steelers as possible as the season progresses.

And as much as these teams need to keep pace, the Steelers must do everything in their power to achieve victory in winnable contests. A winnable contest can be defined for our purposes as a game in which a team has a probability of winning that's 70% or greater. Now, there is no way to scientifically come to this conclusion without serious math skills, so let's just assume 70% is a subjective number.

The Steelers, in my opinion, can be said to play 10 games this season where the probability of a win (based on stats and other variables) is 70% or more, thus these games are winnable. However, the Steelers' loss last week was not a loss in a winnable game. The game was push at best.

This week, the Steelers are faced with a winnable game in its highest form. This is a game the Steelers should win and must win. If they don't, the team is in for a much harder season than any of us anticipated, and the number of winnable games drops considerably.

OFFENCE

Pittsburgh NFL Rank 7 (Rush 27th, Pass 2nd) That's a big disparity between rushing and passing rankings. Some say give the ball to Jerome Bettis. Others say give the ball to Amos Zereoue. And still others want Verron Haynes to touch the pigskin. Whatever they do, they should stick to one guy and one guy only.

Cincinnati NFL Rank 8 (Rush 20th, Pass 6th) Corey Dillon will break out a monster game very soon. This could be the week against a rather poor rushing defense. A good running game will open Chad Johnson to many reception opportunities.

Advantage: Pittsburgh, but that Chad Johnson kid is a budding superstar.

DEFENCE

Pittsburgh NFL Rank 5 (Rush 23rd, Pass 10th) The first key to this game is stopping Corey Dillon. The second key to this game is stopping Chad Johnson. But the most important key to the game should be getting pressure on Jon Kitna. The Steelers have recorded a mere 3 sacks in 2 games and only one came from the linebacking unit.

Cincinnati NFL Rank 10 (Rush 28th, Pass 7th) They were strong against an Oakland team that couldn't stretch the field. But this week they'll have problems with Burress and Ward. The important guy they must keep an eye on is Atwaan Randle El, because it's only a matter of time before Randle El puts a solid game together. And Cleveland knows firsthand how magical he can be when his head's in the game.

Advantage: Pittsburgh without a doubt.

QUARTERBACKS

Tommy Maddox: He's gotten hammered too much in the first two games for many a fan's taste.

Jon Kitna: He's a coach-killer by definition. But if he gets into a rhythm he can be lethal for short periods of time.

Advantage: Kitna will make some plays and throw some interceptions, but Maddox will make more plays and throw fewer interceptions.

OUTLOOK: Dr. Z says the Steelers will lose. Sorry, but the good doctor just flat out misses on this prediction. The Steelers will win going away.

John Biles
SteelCitySports.com


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