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Steelers open as 3.5 point underdogs against Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14

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The Steelers return to Cincinnati as road underdogs in a must-win Week 14 game.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Last time the Steelers played in Cincinnati, it was a 20-10 dumpster fire.

In 2012, a strong ground-and-pound performance resulted in an impressive 24-17 win in primetime.

With such a contrasting recent history, it's a wonder which version of the schizophrenic Steelers will show up to Paul Brown Stadium, as Pittsburgh stares down the barrel of playoff elimination in Week 14. The Bengals have been installed as 3.5 point favorites at home against their AFC North rivals.

Coming off two consecutive wins, it shouldn't be a surprise. It might be more, even, if the Bengals didn't just narrowly escape the clutches of the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers - the same Buccaneers who defeated the Steelers in Week 4.

Cincinnati boasts one of the better offensive lines in the league, and their running game is ninth in the NFL, averaging 124.5 yards a game. They seem to suffer from the same identity crisis the Steelers do, having taken bad losses in and around impressive wins. They tied with Carolina at 37-37, and were savaged by the Patriots 43-17 and shut out by the Colts 27-0.

Still, they hold a strong 1.5 game lead on the faltering AFC North, and that lead would become all but impossible for the Steelers to catch should Pittsburgh lose this game. A loss in Week 14 to Cincinnati would mean the Bengals have to win one of their final three games to eliminate the Steelers from the playoffs.

The same two teams will meet in Week 17 in Pittsburgh, but the relevance of the second game may end up being defined by the result of the first game. Baltimore and Cleveland sit with Pittsburgh at 7-5, the three division chasers all having lost in Week 13.