Resurgence in Cincy?

The early weather forecast for Sunday night in Pittsburgh calls for rain - something the Steelers saw more than enough of last week.

Nevertheless, they could be in for another sloppy game when they host the resurgent Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night looking to move another step closer to the AFC North title.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Pittsburgh -7 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 46 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 53% of bets for this game have been placed on Cincinnati +7 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

This game will come six days after Pittsburgh (8-3) waded through the mud at waterlogged Heinz Field for a field goal in the final minute to overcome winless Miami 3-0 on Monday night. With a driving rain saturating the newly sodded playing surface, conditions were among the worst the players had ever seen, and the game looked like it had a chance to be the NFL's first scoreless one since 1943 until Jeff Reed made a 24-yard kick with 17 seconds left.

"It was horrendous," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "No offense. You could have put (Tom) Brady's offense out there without anyone scoring."

An NFL official is in Pittsburgh this week to monitor the conditions, but the Steelers aren't expected to again re-sod the field, as they did last weekend after several high school and college games were played there. Rain is in the forecast for Pittsburgh again for Sunday.

The New England Patriots - the Steelers' opponent next week - tore up the Gillette Stadium field last November in similar circumstances against the New York Jets, and made a quick decision to install FieldTurf in time for their next game.

"We have to look at those options and we will," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I'm not concerned about it right now. The field we have here is the field we have."

The Steelers hope to revitalize their offense on that field regardless of the conditions. Pittsburgh has won four of its last five overall but has struggled offensively recently, with a previously prolific unit putting up its two lowest yardage totals of the year the last two weeks against teams that have won a combined two games.

The Steelers had averaged more than 30 points over four games before gaining just 263 total yards on FieldTurf at Giants Stadium in a 19-16 loss to the 2-9 Jets two weeks ago. They managed a season-low 216 yards in the mud against 0-11 Miami.

Pittsburgh is 28-10 at home since 2003, but three of those losses came to Cincinnati, which has won three of its last four at Heinz Field.

All three of Pittsburgh's defeats this season have come to teams that had losing records at the time, and the Bengals (4-7) are another club with a sub-.500 record.

Pittsburgh, though, won 24-13 at Cincinnati on Oct. 28, as Willie Parker rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 230 yards and two scores. The key sequence in the game took place late in the first half, when Cincinnati elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 2, and the Steelers responded with a touchdown with four seconds to play in the half to take a 21-6 lead.

"That's why they're 5-2 and we're 2-5," Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said that day. "Good teams put it in the end zone. Teams like us kick field goals."

The Bengals, who haven't finished with a losing record since 2002, finally looked like a good team last week against Tennessee, putting it in the end zone five times in a 35-6 win over Tennessee. Carson Palmer rebounded from a four-interception debacle against Arizona to go 32-of-38 for 283 yards and three touchdowns, all to Chad Johnson, who hadn't caught a TD since Week 2.

Palmer has played well against Pittsburgh since a hit by then-Steelers defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen tore multiple knee ligaments during a January 2006 playoff game. Palmer has 649 yards passing and seven touchdowns with just two interceptions in three meetings since the injury, though Cincinnati has gone 1-2.

The Bengals also rushed for 148 yards against Tennessee, their second-best effort on the ground this season. Rudi Johnson, still recovering from a hamstring injury, rushing a season-high 25 times for 88 yards and a touchdown.

"I thought this week, his runs were more Rudi-like, the way he was finishing runs more than anything else," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "That was good to see. It gives him more confidence in things."

Cincinnati's offense was expected to be good, and ranks fifth in the NFL with 361.2 yards per game. The Bengals' embattled defense, though, has established itself in recent weeks, allowing just 34 points in the last three games.

Cincinnati won two of those, including a 21-7 defeat of Baltimore on Nov. 11. The Bengals fell 35-27 to Arizona the following week when the Cardinals' Antrel Rolle returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

"We know where it's been," defensive captain John Thornton said. "It's been in us. We just had to get it out."

The Steelers' defense, meanwhile, is ranked first in the NFL in points allowed (13.2 per game) and yards allowed (229.2). The unit may also get back a key component as safety Troy Polamalu, who missed the Miami game with a knee injury, has a chance to play Sunday.

Pittsburgh remarkably emerged injury-free from the Monday night mud pit, although receiver Santonio Holmes (ankle injury) and tackle Marvel Smith (back pain) missed the contest. Both may return Sunday.

The Steelers are just one game ahead of Cleveland in the AFC North, but hold the tiebreaker after beating the Browns twice. Cleveland, however, doesn't play another winning team, while the Steelers have two straight games against opponents that are a combined 19-3 - New England and Jacksonville - starting next week.

The Steelers are also a game behind Indianapolis for the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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