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Steelers vs. Bengals: Pivotal Matchup For Both AFC North Squads

Ah, Bengals week. It's always an exciting two weeks of the year for Steelers fans. Pittsburgh facing up against their little brother Cincinnati. While the Bengals certainly strike more fear into the hearts of Steelers fans in recent years than in years past, the Steelers have still managed to maintain their strangle-hold over the series, winning five of the past 7.

cgolden has already laid out the defensive and offensive statistics of both teams, and it's evident that this is the classic matchup of strength vs. strength. The Bengals, despite their shoddy record and inconsistent struggles, still sport the league's 5th best offense in total yards, and the third most prolific passing game. The Steelers on the other hand, are dominating opponents defensively. 1st in scoring defense. 1st in pass defense. 2nd in rush defense. The Bengals seem to be improving defensively, but the 6 points yieled to the Titans last week is somewhat of a mirage. Vince Young threw for nearly 250 yards, and the Titans were in Bengals territory on a number of occasions, but two costly turnovers and an unacceptable 20% clip on third down limited the Titans to just two FGs on the afternoon.

If there were ever a week for this Steelers offense to get back on track offensively, it's this week against a Bengals defense that is just mediocre at best. Willie Parker had a solid game Monday given the circumstances, but the league's 2nd leading rusher and 1,000 yard back has yet to really get it going for nearly a month now. Furthermore, the Bengals, who protect Carson Palmer extraordinarily well, have a hard time getting to the QB. With only 18 sacks on the year, the Steelers offensive line once again has an opportunity to silence some of the critics who think their play has been, and will continue to be, the downfall of this otherwise solid team. Remember though, our past three opponents were not having prolific years sacking the quarterback.

With a win, the Steelers will improve to 9-3 and really help solidify their playoff prospects, regardless of whether the Browns are able to take down the Cardinals in Glendale this Sunday. The Bengals? Well, whatever playoff chances they may have would all be crushed with a loss this week. A win, on the other hand, might give them the necessary momentum to make a late run given their soft remaining schedule. Suffice it to say that the stakes are plenty high for both teams.

More to come shortly on the key matchups within the game, an update on the injury situations of both squads, as well as a look at some of the other marquee matchups of the weekend.