Fierce Bengals growl for AFC crown

For about 13 years Cincinnati was a terrible team. With only one winning record between 1990 and 2003 there was little for NFL fans to believe in.

This season the club is pouncing on everyone at 6-2 atop a tight AFC North. Key to their success has been the play of QB Carson Palmer and his 14 touchdowns and the resurgence of Cedric Benson.

In fact Benson is arguably the key guy on the team with his tough running. It doesn’t hurt that he has also racked up 837 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

His ability to gain 100 yards opens things up for Palmer to find guys like Chad Ochocinco and Andre Caldwell downfield.

This week the Bengals get a big test in division rival the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at 1pm on CBS. Granted Cincy beat them in week two but the Steelers are a different team now.

For one thing Pittsburgh is gaining ground on the defensive end as it leads the league in rushing yards allowed per game (70.5) and are in the top ten in both total yards allowed (284.9) and points allowed per game (17.4).

Meanwhile Big Ben has made Pittsburgh a startling good passing team that ranks fifth in passing yards (266.8) and total yards per game (382).

In their week two match the Steelers let a 20-9 lead slip in the fourth. With renewed vigour on D that won’t happen again.

In fact it’s hard to see Pittsburgh not winning this slugfest 21-18 in spite of neither QB having 250 yards through the air.

The other big game on Sunday is at 8:30pm on NBC when AFC powers the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots do battle.

Both squads are well out in front of their respective divisions thanks to QB Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne for Indy and QB Tom Brady and Randy Moss for the Pats.

In spite of that offense, the key to this game is defense. The Colts have showed remarkable progress in this regard thanks to the pass-rushing prowess of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Mike Wright and Tully Banta-Cain aren’t nearly as talented but they get the job done for New England.

Ultimately Indy’s D should give the Colts a 35-24 victory.