The Steelers will be facing the Bengals this Saturday in their second meeting this year. Since their first matchup in Week 12, Cincinnati has leapfrogged the Steelers in the AFC playoff race, sitting at 8-6 to Pittsburgh’s 7-7. Pittsburgh won their first game against the Bengals this year, but haven’t managed to win since, entering Saturday’s game on a three-game skid.
The Steelers will have a tougher time defeating Cincinnati this week than they did in Week 12. Although the Bengals’ roster is largely the same, the team looks much stronger and more confident at this point in the season. Here are five players on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster to keep your eye on heading into Week 16.
WR Tee Higgins
Bengals’ star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has been ruled out of Saturday’s game against the Steelers. It’s certainly a blow for the Bengals, but don’t think for a second that his absence makes this an easy matchup for Pittsburgh. Cincinnati has arguably the best WR2 in the league in Tee Higgins, who proved exactly that last week against the Vikings with a monster two-touchdown game. Higgins is a contested catch machine and a WR1-level talent when healthy.
Higgins will be a handful for Steelers rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. to cover. It’ll be the first time the two have matched up this season as Higgins missed Week 12 with injury. Additionally, the Steelers will be missing their top four safeties against the Bengals this week, all but ensuring one of Cincinnati’s receivers will have a big day on Saturday. Unsurprisingly, Higgins will definitely be a name to watch in Week 16.
QB Jake Browning
I tried to make a point of not repeating players in this article who I mentioned earlier this season when the Bengals played the Steelers. But Browning is the one exception. He’s come a long way since his 19/26, 227 yards, one touchdown and one interception stat line against the Steelers in Week 12. In the three games since, he’s beaten that yardage total each time and thrown for multiple touchdowns twice. He’s proven to be a competent, smart, and poised quarterback who looks like he could legitimately take this year’s Bengals team to the playoffs.
In fact, Browning’s success has prompted a number of “is Joe Burrow a system quarterback” jokes online, which of course are ridiculous, but the fact that these jokes are even being made prove that Browning is excelling in his current role. This time around, he should be more confident and prepared against a Steelers defense that gave him trouble earlier this season. Despite being a backup thrown into the fire late in the year, Browning is playing like an NFL quarterback worth taking seriously.
RB Chase Brown
Joe Mixon is still handling the majority of the Bengals’ carries at running back, but rookie runner Chase Brown has burst onto the scene late this season to provide a solid second option. He’s averaged only 10 touches a game in the Bengals’ last three matchups, but Brown’s game-breaking speed has let him make the most out of those moments. He had a run of 31 yards and a catch-and-run of 54 over that stretch, averaging 4.4 yards a carry and scoring a touchdown.
Brown’s numbers are solid considering his role in Cincinnati’s offense, but they’re not exactly eye-popping. However, against a defense as bereft of quality linebackers as Pittsburgh’s, a speedy change-of-pace back like Brown could have a field day. Keep in mind, the Steelers gave up 88 rushing yards to Trey Sermon and 69 to Tyler Goodson last week against Indianapolis. Chase Brown could easily have a huge day against the Steelers on Saturday.
DE Trey Hendrickson
Trey Hendrickson has been on a tear lately. The Bengals’ defensive end has recorded a sack or more in five straight games. His 15 on the year are good enough to tie for third across the entire NFL. He’s been one of the NFL’s best and most consistent pass-rushers this season, and one half of a great edge defender duo alongside Sam Hubbard.
Hendrickson will be lining up against struggling Steelers left tackle Dan Moore on Saturday, who he burned for a sack the last time they met in Week 12. He’ll be hoping to improve those numbers in Week 16, against a Steelers offensive line that keeps looking worse with each game and a quarterback in Mason Rudolph who is making his first start of the season and isn’t exactly known for his mobility. The Steelers will have a tough time containing Hendrickson on Saturday.
DL Josh Tupou
Tupou is hardly one of the bigger names on a Bengals’ defense that has plenty. But the backup defensive lineman has been forced into the biggest role of his NFL career late this season, filling in for one of the NFL’s most underrated players in D.J. Reader, an elite run-stuffing nose tackle who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 15.
Tupou, known as a run defender himself, looks like he can be solid in replacement of Reader. He has a 54.2 PFF grade on the season, with a season-best four total tackles against the Vikings last week and two stuffs against the Colts the week before that, per ESPN. Against the Steelers, Tupou will face two solid guards in Isaac Seumalo and James Daniels, but also one of the NFL’s worst centers in Mason Cole. It’ll be an interesting matchup for sure, especially considering that the Steelers rushed for 153 yards on the ground last time the two teams met.
Although the Bengals are still battling significant injuries like they were in Week 12, they look like a much stronger team overall at this point in the season. The Steelers will need to play a strong game in order to break their three-game losing streak on Saturday.