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Steelers 33-20 road victory over Bengals has them looking 'Super'

The Steelers traveled to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday and beat-up on a 10-2 Bengals team and did so in a methodical, businesslike fashion. For the first time in 2015, Pittsburgh really does look like a Super Bowl-contender. Now, all the Steelers have to do is win their last three games and get into the playoffs.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If you didn't know any better, you would have thought the Steelers were the ones that started Week 14 with a 10-2 record and that Cincinnati was the 7-5 team just clinging to the idea of making the playoffs.

Near the end of Pittsburgh's 33-20 road victory over the Bengals on Sunday, the CBS announcers mentioned that it was very businesslike in nature for the men in black and gold, and, watching from afar, that's how it appeared.

A lot of loyal fans have been saying all season that the Steelers could be a scary team to face in the playoffs; after Sunday's impressive performance along with their dismantling of the Colts last week and their mistake-filled near-victory in Seattle two weeks ago, the faithful may actually be right.

The Bengals lost two games in recent weeks, but the scores were close. The Steelers, on the other hand, were the first team to really put something on Cincinnati this season in a 13-point victory that seemed much more dominant than the final score indicated. Even the 20-point lead Pittsburgh claimed after a one-yard touchdown by running back DeAngelo Williams with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter didn't really do the methodical nature of Sunday's performance justice.

It's one thing to show up at Heinz Field and blow-out an Indianapolis team playing with a 40-year old backup quarterback, a patchwork offensive line and a very suspect defense. It's quite another  to go into Paul Brown Stadium and methodically take apart maybe the most complete roster in the NFL--a team that was not only looking to clinch the AFC North, but one that had aspirations for a top seed in the playoffs.

It is true that Cincinnati entered Sunday's game with a compromised secondary that included the absence of cornerback Adam Jones, who was out with an ankle injury. It's also true that quarterback Andy Dalton left  the game with a thumb injury in the first quarter and never returned. But the Steelers looked like the better team right from the get-go when they marched 80 yards on the game's opening-drive to take a 7-0 lead on Williams' first one-yard touchdown plunge.

After backup quarterback AJ McCarron and receiver A.J. Green teamed up to give the home folks a little hope on a 66-yard touchdown strike with 6:23 left in the first half to draw to within 13-7, the Bengals never threatened again, as Pittsburgh controlled the action the rest of the way, turning two second-half interceptions into 14 points.

After Sunday's game, it was reported that Dalton suffered a fractured thumb while tackling defensive end Stephon Tuitt following a first quarter interception and that he might miss the rest of the regular season and even the playoffs.

In many respects, the thumb injury to Dalton mirrors the knee injury sustained by quarterback Carson Palmer in the Steelers 31-17 victory over Cincinnati in the 2005 wild card game. Only difference is, the 2015 edition of the Bengals has three weeks to get McCarron ready for the postseason and a possible run to the Super Bowl.

But can Cincinnati seriously be considered a championship-contender at this point with McCarron under center? How about a Broncos team that lost at home to Oakland on Sunday and will be traveling to Heinz Field next week to take on the Steelers with either 39-year old and just returning from injury Peyton Manning or 25-year old and very ineffective as of late Brock Osweiler at quarterback?

Yes, Denver has a great defense, but the Bengals have a pretty good defense, too, as do the Seahawks. Yet Pittsburgh's offense mainly had its way with both of them.

Maybe the fans are right when they passionately say the Steelers are a legitimate Super Bowl-contender and every-bit as good as any team in the AFC or the entire NFL. Of course, the problem Pittsburgh faces right now is playoff uncertainty. After Sunday afternoon's action, the Steelers (8-5) are still in seventh place in the conference, thanks to victories by the Chiefs and Jets. Fortunately, Pittsburgh still controls its own fate and will get into the dance by winning-out and finishing with an 11-5 record.

There is still much work to do and nothing is guaranteed as far as the postseason is concerned, but after Sunday's performance in Cincinnati, it's hard to bet against the Steelers as a serious threat and true Super Bowl contender.

Now, all they have to do is make the playoffs and show everyone just how serious they are.