The Pittsburgh Steelers come to Paul Brown Stadium on Monday night as one of the hottest teams in the league.
The Steelers are riding a six-game winning streak that includes a 29-14 triumph of the Bengals in Pittsburgh in Week 7. The hot stretch, which includes four wins by six points or less, has resulted in Pittsburgh all but sewing up the AFC North Division title by building a four-game lead with five to play.
It’s a run similar to what the Steelers did last year when they finished the season on a seven-game winning streak before knocking off Miami and Kansas City in the playoffs to reach AFC Championship Game, where the fell to the New England Patriots.
The Steelers and Patriots will wage a rematch in Week 15 and, with both teams sitting atop the conference at 9-2, could be on a path to meet with the AFC title on the line for the fourth time since 2001.
Either Pittsburgh or New England has been in the AFC Championship game 13 times in the last 14 seasons, and that combined success led Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to step outside the realm of usual coach speak last week when he talked about the importance of the Week 15 matchup rather than relying on the standard “one game a time” mantra found in Chapter 1 of the coaching handbook.
Tomlin said his team “should win it all” and referred to “fireworks” that will come in Week 15, which he said will be “part one” of a two-game series with the Patriots, all but penciling Pittsburgh into the AFC Championship Game.
The Steelers are one of four teams ranked in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense. They are 7th in offense at 367.0 yards per game, and fourth in defense, allowing 289.4 ypg.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,195) and receptions (80), while running back Le’Veon Bell leads the league in rushing yards (981) and carries (252).
The last time players from the same team led the league in rushing and receiving yards was 1999 when Indianapolis’ Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison did it. The only other time it’s happened in the Super Bowl era was 1991 with Dallas’ Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
But as explosive as the Steelers have been offensively, they’ve been even better on defense, ranking third against the pass (193.4), sixth against the run (96.0) and fourth in points allowed (17.5).
Pittsburgh also is first in first downs allowed, second in sacks per pass play, fifth in interception percentage and eighth in third-down efficiency.
The Steelers excelled in all of those areas in the first meeting with the Bengals, allowing 11 first downs, recording four sacks, intercepting two passes and stopping eight of 11 third down tries.
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Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis grew up in McDonald, Pa., near Pittsburgh. Lewis’ first NFL coaching job was with the Steelers as LBs coach from 1992-95 under head coach Bill Cowher. He also coached at the University of Pittsburgh from 1990-91 … Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was defensive backs coach for the University of Cincinnati from 1999-2000 … Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played at Miami University … Steelers linebacker James Harrison played for the Bengals in 2013 … Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd is from Clairton, Pa., and played at the University of Pittsburgh … Steelers S Mike Mitchell is from Fort Thomas, Ky. (Highlands High School) … Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett is from Pittsburgh, played at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and coached for the Steelers from 1997-99 … Bengals tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes grew up in South Fayette, Pa. and played tight end for the Steelers from 1994-96 … Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebacker Ryan Shazier played at Ohio State University … Steelers linebacker L.J. Fort spent time on the Bengals practice squad in 2014 … Bengals linebacker Brandon Bell (practice squad) played at Penn State University … Bengals assistant head coach/offensive line coach Paul Alexander coached at Penn State from 1983-84 … Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton coached at Penn State from 1987-91 … Steelers inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky was with the Bengals as a player during the 1998 preseason … Bengals TE Scott Orndoff (practice squad) played at Pitt, and was originally a 2017 college free agent with the Steelers and was with the team for part of training camp … Bengals kicker Randy Bullock was with the Steelers briefly during the 2016 season … Steelers running back Terrell Watson (practice squad) entered the NFL as a college free agent with the Bengals in 2015 and spent the ’15 season on Cincinnati’s practice squad.
AFC North Outlook
Baltimore (6-5) vs. Detroit (6-5) on Sunday afternoon: The Ravens currently own the final wildcard spot in the AFC, but there are four teams within one game of them.
Cleveland (0-11) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-6) on Sunday afternoon: The only win of the Hue Jackson era (1-26) came in Week 16 last year against the Chargers.