Sunday Night Football

Sunday Night Football

Game Preview for Bengals vs Steelers

(Sports Network) - Time is running out on the Cincinnati Bengals, but the enigmatic club can take a big step towards bolstering its fading playoff chances when it takes on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a nationally-televised showdown between AFC North rivals this Sunday at Heinz Field.

Although Cincinnati's 4-7 record at this point in the season is clearly disappointing to a team that entered the campaign with postseason aspirations, the Bengals have managed to keep hope alive by posting two big victories over the last three weeks. Marvin Lewis' troops are coming off their most impressive performance of the year, a 35-6 rout of struggling Tennessee last Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Quarterback Carson Palmer atoned for a four-interception outing in Cincinnati's 35-27 home loss to Arizona during Week 11 with a 283-yard, three- touchdown effort against the Titans. All three scoring strikes wound up in the arms of flashy wide receiver Chad Johnson, who recorded a career-high 12 catches for 103 yards.

Even the Bengals' maligned defense got in the act, limiting a strong Tennessee rushing attack to only 61 yards on the afternoon.

Cincinnati will face another test this week from a Steelers' squad that has churned out the second-most rushing yards in the NFL in 2007 and amassed 160 yards via the ground in a 24-13 win over the Bengals in late October. But in reality, Pittsburgh's surge back to the top of the AFC North standings has been fueled by a bone-crunching defense that tops the league in total yards allowed (229.1 ypg), points allowed (13.2 ppg) and passing yards allowed (152.1 ypg).

Pittsburgh's defensive prowess was on display this past Monday, when the unit held winless Miami to a mere 159 yards and nine first downs in a 3-0 victory. The defense was also aided by a driving rainstorm that turned a re-sodded Heinz Field surface into an absolute quagmire.

With the possibility of more rain forecast for Sunday, the field conditions could again factor in the outcome of this matchup as well, with a slower track potentially having the most impact on Cincinnati's high-powered offense.

Another obstacle the Bengals will have to overcome is the Heinz Field crowd. The Steelers are 6-0 at home this season and have an average margin of victory of 17 points in those tests.

Cincinnati wasn't fazed by playing in the Steel City last year, however, as the Bengals handed Pittsburgh a 28-20 loss in their own building in 2006.

SERIES HISTORY

The Steelers lead the all-time regular season series with the Bengals, 44-30, including the above-mentioned 24-13 road victory when the teams met in Week 8. The teams embarked upon an unconventional home-and-home split last season, with Cincinnati taking the aforementioned 28-20 decision at Heinz Field in Week 3, and the Steelers spoiling Cincinnati's playoff hopes with a 23-17 overtime victory at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 17.

The Steelers' 31-17 road win over the Bengals in the 2005 playoffs marked the first postseason meeting between the longtime division rivals.

Including playoffs, the road team has won the last seven games in the series, with Pittsburgh's home win in 2004 ranking as the most recent game to buck that trend.

Lewis is 3-7 all-time against the Steelers, while Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin is 1-0 against both Lewis and Cincinnati as a head coach.

WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL

Cincinnati boasts one of the league's most prolific aerial attacks, with Palmer (3076 passing yards, 21 TD, 15 INT) firing darts to Johnson (71 receptions, 1041 receiving yards, 6 TD) and fellow wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh (872 receiving yards, 11 TD), who leads all NFL receivers with 83 receptions. The Bengals' third-ranked pass offense (270.5 ypg) has been made even more dangerous with the return of Chris Henry (15 receptions, 1 TD) from an eight- game suspension last month. Palmer normally receives excellent protection from an offensive line that has yielded just 18 sacks thus far and could get All- Pro tackle Willie Anderson, who's missed the last six games with a knee injury, back on Sunday.

While Cincinnati's passing game has been tough to stop, the offense has had its problems running the ball at times this year. The Bengals are putting up just 90.6 yards per week on the ground (24th overall) and top running back Rudi Johnson (355 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 2 total TD) is averaging a subpar 2.8 yards a rush. Kenny Watson (498 rushing yards, 5 TD, 38 receptions) has been the team's most effective runner as well as a frequent target of Palmer. The sixth-year pro had 88 yards on 19 carries filling in for an injured Rudi Johnson against the Steelers in October.

Pittsburgh's stellar pass defense was able to keep the Bengals weapons in check in the team's earlier meeting, holding Palmer to a rather harmless 205 yards through the air despite not recording a sack. The Steelers usually excel at generating pressure through the blitz, as evidenced by the team's healthy total of 32 sacks. James Harrison (69 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT) is having a career year at one of the outside linebacker spots, while counterparts James Farrior (63 tackles, 6 sacks) and Clark Haggans (41 tackles, 4 sacks) are also accomplished pass rushers. The group, along with standout corner Ike Taylor (49 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack), has helped Pittsburgh allow opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 54.9 percent completion percentage.

The Steelers have been just as stingy against the run, having surrendered a mere 77.1 yards per game on the ground (2nd overall). With an assist from the conditions, Pittsburgh held the Dolphins to just 49 rushing yards on 23 attempts on Monday, with fill-in safety Tyrone Carter (28 tackles, 0.5 sacks) leading the charge with 12 tackles. Carter was taking the place of All-Pro Troy Polamalu (42 tackles, 7 PD), who sat out with a knee sprain and is highly questionable to return for this game.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

Pittsburgh ranks just 12th in the NFL in total yards (336.3 ypg) but has been extremely efficient on offense. The Steelers' 49 percent conversion rate on third downs is second only to undefeated New England, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (2380 passing yards, 23 TD, 9 INT) has done a much better job of protecting the ball after enduring a 23-interception season last year. Pittsburgh's bread-and-butter is still a run game headed up by burner Willie Parker (1006 rushing yards, 2 TD, 16 receptions) and capable backup Najeh Davenport (320 rushing yards, 3 TD). Parker has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in three straight outings versus Cincinnati, including a 126-yard effort in Week 8.

The Steelers played without game-breaking wideout Santonio Holmes (39 receptions, 7 TD) last week, and the second-year standout is unlikely to suit up on Sunday due to a high ankle sprain. That means Roethlisberger will look more to trusty veteran Hines Ward (46 receptions, 4 TD), who established season-highs of nine catches and 88 yards against Miami. Tight end Heath Miller (33 receptions, 6 TD) is a solid second option and Nate Washington (17 receptions, 2 TD) has shown potential in the past as Holmes' replacement. Roethlisberger needs better protection and has to show quicker decision-making skills, however, as the young signal-caller has been sacked 12 times over the last two weeks.

Don't count on the Bengals providing that kind of heat on Sunday, as their defense has only taken down the quarterback 18 times this season and no Cincinnati player has recorded more than 2 1/2 sacks. That has put a lot of pressure on the team's young cornerback tandem of Johnathan Joseph (31 tackles, 2 INT) and Leon Hall (38 tackles, 4 INT, 10 PD), as well as talented safety Madieu Williams (64 tackles, 1 INT, 2 sacks). For the year the Bengals rank just 26th in passing defense (243.2 ypg) and have surrendered 22 touchdowns through the air.

Cincinnati has also had its troubles stopping the rush, although last week's showing against a run-based Tennessee offense was indeed encouraging. Injuries to the linebacking corps have crippled the Bengals throughout the year, but the club may have solved the problem by moving Landon Johnson (77 tackles, 1 sack) from the weakside to the middle and inserting journeyman Dhani Jones (53 tackles, 1 sack) into the starting lineup. Jones had nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against the Titans. Despite last Sunday's performance, Cincinnati stands just 25th overall against the run (120.5 ypg).

FANTASY FOCUS

With the Heinz Field surface having become such an issue, don't be surprised if the production of a number of fantasy stalwarts is curtailed some this week. The fact that the Bengals will be going up against the fifth-ranked fantasy defense on Sunday could also limit the outputs of Palmer, Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson. Still, it's nearly impossible to completely shut down the trio, so start each of them as usual. Roethlisberger, who's compiled an excellent 112.2 quarterback rating at home this year, has a most favorable matchup against a weak Cincinnati pass defense and makes a great play this week. So does Ward, who will be the focal point of the Pittsburgh passing game with Holmes probably inactive. Stay away from the Bengal running backs and either kicker, but Parker's history of great games against Cincinnati makes the speedy back a worthy start.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Cincinnati's recent resurgence adds a little spice to this Sunday night showdown, but the Bengals still have some problem areas that figure to be exploited by a sound Pittsburgh team. The Steelers should shut down Cincy's non-existent run game, and Palmer's struggled at times this season when he hasn't had the benefit of offensive balance. Although the Bengals have shown an improved run defense, it's hard to envision their limited personnel being able to shut down the powerful Steelers in that area. When Pittsburgh runs the ball well, they've proven to be tough to stop on offense, while the club's outstanding track record at Heinz Field also provides an attractive selling point for the home team.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Steelers 24, Bengals 14

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Re: Sunday Night Football

Cincinnati (4-7, 5-6 ATS) at Pittsburgh (8-3, 6-5 ATS)

The Bengals hope to build on a blowout win when they meet the AFC North-leading Steelers at Heinz Field.

Cincinnati piled on Tennessee in a 35-6 victory as a 1½-point home pup. QB Carson Palmer was a solid 32-for-38 for 283 passing yards, three TDs and one INT, with all three scoring tosses going to WR Chad Johnson (12 catches, 103 yards). Also, the Bengals’ much-maligned defense allowed a season-low in points after giving up 35 to the Cardinals the previous week.

Pittsburgh slogged its way to a 3-0 victory over winless Miami on a rain-gutted Heinz Field on Monday night, never threatening to cover as an overwhelming 16-point chalk, its third straight non-cover. The Steelers didn’t seal the win until Jeff Reed hit a 24-yard field goal with 17 seconds left in the game.

The Bengals are 17-7-1 ATS in their last 25 roadies, going 4-1 ATS in their last five as a road underdog. On the flip side, they are on ATS slides of 4-9-1 against teams with a winning record, 1-4 after a SU victory and 0-4 after an ATS win.

The Steelers are 6-2 SU and ATS the last eight in this series, including a 24-13 victory in October giving four points on the road. However, the road team has won the last seven meetings in a row and the visitor is on a 9-1 ATS roll in this rivalry.

ATS ADVANTAGE: CINCINNATI

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What bettors need to know: Bengals at Steelers
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Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday mess

The Cincinnati Bengals could be in for a messy affair when the meet the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night at Heinz Field.

“I would hope it's not the same,” Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh told reporters. “If it’s the same, it’s terrible. I can't imagine the field being the same way as it was last Monday.”

New sod was laid at Heinz Field less than 24 hours before Monday’s tilt with the Dolphins, and a torrential downpour transformed the playing surface into a swampland.

“It was horrendous,” Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward told reporters. “No offense. You could have put (Tom) Brady's offense out there without anyone scoring.”

However, some Bengals players think the conditions in Pittsburgh may actually work in their favor.

“The field that we practice on every day is as slippery,” Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer told reporters. “The turf comes up just as bad on our grass field as it does anywhere I've ever played, so we're used to it.”

Bengals left tackle Levi Jones echoed Palmer’s sentiments.

“We get that look every day out here on our practice field,” Jones told reporters. “Some days it can be (just as bad). And we all remember how this stadium used to be before it went to Field Turf.”

Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis also held Friday’s practice on grass instead of on the turf in Paul Brown Stadium. Lewis also had extra water directed on the practice field to replicate the impending conditions in Pittsburgh.

Another one bites the dust

Steelers veteran fullback Dan Kreider will miss the rest of the season after hyper-extending his knee in Monday’s win over the Dolphins.  Pittsburgh added tight end Jon Dekker to its active roster Tuesday to replace Kreider.

“It’s really exciting,” Dekker told Steelers.com. “I was talking to my parents and they were also excited about the opportunity. It was great hearing coach Tomlin tell me I was getting moved up.”

Dekker has been preparing for this chance since the day he signed with the Steelers as an un-drafted rookie out of Princeton.

“I have always come to work with the attitude of working hard every day,” Dekker added. “You have to zero in more on the game plan. But, other than that, I try to prepare each week as though I was getting ready to play. That’s one of the most important things you can do because now you are ready to go.”

Steelers undermanned

Pittsburgh could be without receiver Santonio Holmes and safety Troy Polamalu against the Bengals.

Holmes missed Monday’s victory over the Dolphins with a sprained ankle, which he suffered two weeks ago in a 19-16 overtime setback to the struggling Jets. The second-year speedster has more than 600 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Holmes is also leading all Pittsburgh receivers with more than 17 yards per catch.

“It’s [the ankle] not progressing as fast as we thought it would,” Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians told reporters about Holmes’ ankle.

Polamalu is also doubtful Sunday with a sprained knee. The three-time Pro Bowl player did not practice Friday, but said he is ahead of schedule.

“Whether I'm able to guard (Bengals wide receiver) Chad Johnson is a different question,” Polamalu told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Polamalu has 33 solo tackles to go along with two forced fumbles. However, he has no interceptions this campaign after leading Pittsburgh in takeaways last season.

Close but no cigar

The Bengals had hoped right tackle Willie Anderson would be available Sunday.  However, that will not be the case.

The five-time Pro Bowler will miss his sixth straight game despite practicing Friday. Anderson injured the knee in a 24-21 setback in Seattle on Sept. 23.

“Will is trying to do everything he can to have an opportunity to play somewhere the rest of this season,” Cincinnati coach Lewis told Bengals.com.

“Obviously he has to get back to practicing football before he can play football, so he’s making those attempts as well as he can do. As long as he continues to progress physically, hopefully he’ll have an opportunity before the year is out.”

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Steelers' Holmes to miss game against Bengals

• Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes (high ankle sprain) missed practice Friday and will miss Sunday night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. "If you don't practice on Friday, you don't play on Sunday," Holmes said. Holmes, who leads the team in receiving yards, touchdown receptions and yards per catch, will miss his second consecutive game. Nate Washington will start.

• Left tackle Marvel Smith (back) didn't practice yesterday. He's listed as doubtful but will probably miss his second game in a row and be replaced by Max Starks.

• Strong safety Troy Polamalu, who's listed as doubtful with a sprained knee, is expected to miss his second consecutive game. He said he will be a gametime decision. Polamalu practiced yesterday for the first time this week. Tyrone Carter will start if Polamalu can't go.

• Fullback Dan Kreider, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in Monday night's game against the Dolphins, said he will undergo surgery on his knee next week.

• Cincinnati tackle Willie Anderson (knee) is out.

• Some Steelers fans who typically park on the North Shore shouldn't bet on finding their spaces open for Sunday night's game, the team said in a statement yesterday. The site of the future Majestic Star Casino -- also known as Gateway West, Green 30 Parking Lot -- will no longer be open for tailgaters and parkers. The team said fans who used to park there should head to other lots Downtown, at Station Square, at the Port Authority's regional Park & Ride locations or in the Allegheny Center garage.

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