TV: CBS (Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon)
SERIES: 76th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead the series 45-30, plus 1-0 in the playoffs. Pittsburgh has won its past seven games in Cincinnati, including a playoff after the 2005 season. They are 21-17 overall in Cincinnati. The Steelers have won 10 of the past 14 overall against the Bengals, including their last meeting in Heinz Field, 24-10 on Dec. 2.
PREDICTION: Steelers 27-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers hope to get RB Willie Parker back after a two-game absence, but are prepared to go with Mewelde Moore if not. The bye week afforded a beat up roster some much-needed rest, but there is still concern over QB Ben Roethlisberger's long-term health due to the amount of big hits he takes. If Cincinnati is to be competitive Sunday, the Bengals' feeble pass rush (just 5.0 sacks on the season) has to get after Big Ben and force a few turnovers. ... The Bengals rank 31st with 72.2 rushing yards per game and dead last with 3.1 yards per carry. RBs Cedric Benson and Chris Perry will take their shots against the league's No. 2 run defense, while QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his third start of the season. Coach Marvin Lewis said the team has to rely more on WRs Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but that will be difficult if Fitzpatrick is constantly backed into third-and-long.
Bengals: QB Carson Palmer (elbow) is out.
FAST FACTS: The Steelers' 18 sacks is half of their total from all of last season. ... Houshmandzadeh leads all NFL wide receiver with 14 third-down receptions.
--RB Gary Russell will pick up much of the third-down play if Mewelde Moore starts for the injured Willie Parker in Cincinnati.
--PR/KR Jayson Foster could be added to the 53-man roster soon if he shows anything in practice. The Steelers are desperate for return men and signed the rookie to their practice squad this week.
--TE Heath Miller could be used as a receiver more vs. Cincinnati because the Steelers don't believe they must max-protect against the Bengals. Miller has 16 receptions, one touchdown.
--TE Sean McHugh will play fullback because of the sprained ankle to starter Carey Davis, the only true fullback on the team.
--NT Scott Paxson's days on the 53-man roster are numbered. If NT Casey Hampton is healthy, Paxson likely will go back on the practice squad.
--LB Corey Mays (ankle) is out for the Steelers game Sunday.
--C Kyle Cook (toe) is out for the Steelers.
--K Shayne Graham (right groin, kicking leg) was limited in practice Thursday. He did not practice Wednesday and might miss his second game in a row. He is supposed to try to kick Thursday at practice, Marvin Lewis said. The Bengals signed Dave Rayner, who kicked against the Jets.
--S Dexter Jackson (thumb), who has missed five games, practiced Thursday and Wednesday.
--DT John Thornton (Achilles) missed the Jets game but might be back for the Steelers. He practiced fully Wednesday and Thursday.
--S Herana-Daze Jones (hamstring) might not play against the Steelers. He injured the leg in the first half against the Jets. He missed practice Wednesday and Thursday.
--CB Jamar Fletcher (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday and Thursday, and is expected to miss the Steelers game Sunday.
--RB Chris Perry (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday but did practice fully Thursday.
--LT Levi Jones (back) did practice fully Thursday after missing the Wednesday practice.
--TE Ben Utecht (chest) did not practice Wednesday but was limited Thursday.
--WR Glenn Holt (ankle) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. Rookie Andre Caldwell might get the opportunity to return kickoffs.
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (ankle) did not practice Wednesday but was limited Thursday. He is expected to play Sunday.
--CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle) did not practice Wednesday but was limited Thursday. He is expected to start Sunday.
--LB Dhani Jones (foot) did not practice Wednesday but had full participation Thursday. He is expected to start Sunday.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Perhaps the Steelers are not as healthy as they thought they might be as they resume play in Cincinnati Sunday following their bye week.
Pittsburgh coaches expected to have most of their injured starters back this week, but questions remain about halfback Willie Parker, nose tackle Casey Hampton and offensive tackle Marvel Smith, all current or former Pro Bowl players.
Parker, who topped 100 yards in each of his first two games, sprained the MCL in his left knee in the third game and missed the following two. He was on schedule to return this week until he stepped in a "hole" on the practice field Monday and re-injured his knee. He ran in practice Thursday but missed the drills with his teammates for the second straight day and will be re-evaluated Friday.
So too will Hampton and Smith. Hampton had limited work for the first time since he was injured in the fourth game of the season, and Smith did not practice at all. Hampton has a groin injury and Smith, who has a history of back issues, has back "spasms" that caused him to leave the Oct. 5 game in Jacksonville in the fourth quarter.
If Parker does not play, Mewelde Moore will make his second straight start. He gained 99 yards on 17 carries against the Jaguars. Max Starks, who remained a backup even after the Steelers made him their $7 million transition player, would make his first start of the season, at left tackle for Smith. And Chris Hoke would again replace Hampton.
The Bengals are 0-6, and the only thing that could make it worse is for the club to get bad news on starting quarterback Carson Palmer.
Palmer on Thursday said he heard some things he wasn't expecting on Monday when a New York doctor examined his inflamed elbow, and said that he's continuing to get more medical opinions before deciding whether to play again this season.
The Bengals quarterback, wearing a brace on his right arm, initially told reporters that he had nothing new to report regarding the elbow.
He was then asked if Dr. David Altchek, who examined the elbow on Monday in New York, reiterated what other doctors told Palmer.
"No," Palmer said. "I found out some information that I wasn't expecting. I'm just trying to get as many opinions as I can."
He declined to elaborate. Altchek's office declined to comment and referred all questions to the Bengals public relations department.
Palmer said he wants to get more information on the elbow before he discusses his 2008 plans with the media.
"Like I said, I haven't made up my mind on anything: Whether I'm going to play, not going to play, have surgery, not going to have surgery," Palmer said. "I'm still waiting on more opinions."
Palmer said he wasn't discouraged, "just anxious."
Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his third start in four weeks Sunday at home against the Steelers. Jordan Palmer, Carson's younger brother, will be the No. 2 quarterback.