The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a precarious position.
A perennial NFL power, the 7-7 Steelers are in danger of missing out on the playoffs. Their biggest obstacle is the 8-6 Cincinnati Bengals, who they face this Sunday, 23 December, at 1pm on CBS.
Sunday’s contest pits two AFC North rivals in what is essentially a playoff game. Of the two, Cincy would appear to have the momentum, having won four of their last five games. Pittsburgh meanwhile are 1-4 with a two-game losing streak.
A balanced attack has served Cincy well, behind quarterback Andy Dalton (3,313 passing yards, 26 touchdowns), wide-out A.J. Green (1,208 receiving yards, 11 TDs) and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1,080 rushing yards, six TDs), with an unheralded defence quietly ranking in the top 10 in most statistical categories.
Pittsburgh have battled injury all season and have struggled to be consistent behind Ben Roethlisberger (2,911 yards, 22 TDs) on offence and James Harrison (57 tackles, four sacks) on defence.
While both offences can score in bunches, Sunday’s match-up should be a defensive struggle.
It’s hard to imagine a postseason without Pittsburgh but Cincy has all the momentum to make that happen in a three-point victory.
Sunday offers two other contests with major playoff implications. The New York Giants face the Baltimore Ravens at 4.25pm on Fox and the New Orleans Saints tackle the Dallas Cowboys at 1pm on Fox. The NFC playoff picture can be clarified with the results, thanks to a three-way tie atop the NFC East.
Eli Manning’s Giants have lost three of five games while Tony Romo’s Cowboys have three straight victories. Look for New York to end their slide with a six-point win over Joe Flacco’s struggling Ravens. It’s hard to bet against Dallas but Drew Brees’ Saints are primed for a 10-point win en route to an 8-8 finish.