The Pittsburgh Steelers, for the first time in quite a while, are entering their final regular season game of the season in control of their own destiny in terms of winning their own division. The last time they were the champions of the AFC North, they made it to the Super Bowl. They have only played one postseason game since then, which they of course lost.
While the Steelers have already guaranteed themselves a playoff spot for the first time in three years with their victory last week, a fourth consecutive win would bump them to the third seed, with a cushy playoff game and an easier opening round opponent. There is still a lot riding on Pittsburgh sweeping the season series against the Cincinnati Bengals tonight.
The last time the two teams faced each other, the offense was able to put up 42 points, though most of that came in the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers would obviously prefer to keep up a steadier pace throughout the game rather than relying on late-game heroics.
Le’Veon Bell had a big day against the Bengals a few weeks ago, but the team’s last two opponents have really focused in on stopping him, and he hasn’t been able to be as productive from a yardage standpoint as a result. Can he rediscover some of that against the Bengals, or will they, too, gear their defense toward stopping Bell?
If they do, of course, they will still have to contend with a Pro Bowl quarterback and wide receiver tandem in Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. While he hasn’t been racking up the touchdown passes, Roethlisberger has been more efficient lately after going through a rough patch.
Opposite Brown are the two young wideouts, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, who seem to have by and large found their niches within the offense. Wheaton has bounced around in terms of production and playing time, but has been solid overall in his first season as a regular contributor.
Bryant always presents a big play threat, as he leads all receivers with at least 25 receptions by averaging 21.1 yards per play. His five plays of 40 yards or more is tied for seventh in the league despite the fact that all but one player ahead of him has at least 49 more receptions.
Then there’s tight end Heath Miller, who continues to be old reliable as a sure-handed option in the receiving game. He has played a better all-around game in terms of blocking during the second half of this season, but it will still be good to get Matt Spaeth back in the running game.
With the offensive line back up and running at full capacity, this final regular season game should be a fine tune up for them as they set to face a postseason run. The pass protection has been solid of late, but the run blocking has dipped over at right tackle due to injury.