This season, no division in the NFL is as close – or as successful – as the AFC North. Every team is over .500 and each matchup between the Bengals, Browns, Ravens, and Steelers could be the difference between making the playoffs and watching your nemesis on TV.
With that backdrop, one might expect the first of two meetings between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati during the final month of the year to be a close, hard-fought affair; while it may be hard-fought, history suggests it may not be close.
Last year, the Steelers beat Cincinnati 30-20 in Pittsburgh, while the Bengals took a 20-10 victory at home. Only one of the last nine games between Cincy and Pittsburgh has been decided by less than six points. Pittsburgh has won three of the last four and 11 of 13 played in Cincinnati since 2001.
This season, Pittsburgh is 3-3 on the road and 2-4 against the spread. In week 2, they lost at Baltimore 26-6, but bounced back to win at Carolina 37-19 in week 3. The Steelers got by Jacksonville on the road (17-9) in week 5, then lost in Cleveland (31-10) in week 6. After a 20-13 loss at the Jets in week 10, Pittsburgh bounced back to get by the Titans (27-24) in week 11. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been among the best signal callers in the NFL at home this season, he has just six touchdown passes and five interceptions in six road games.
This game will mark the first at home for the Bengals after a three-game road trip. Cincinnati has not been as dominant at home this year as last, but have still played well. After going a perfect 8-0 last season, Cincinnati is 4-1-1 at home and 3-2 against the number this season. The Bengals dominated the Falcons and Titans early in the year at Paul Brown Stadium; but, in week six, Carolina played Cincy to a 37-37 draw. The Bengals then won home games against Baltimore and Jacksonville in weeks 8 and 9, but lost to Cleveland in spectacular fashion in week 10 (24-3). They rebounded with a couple of road wins – including an impressive 27-10 rout of the Saints, where they came is as seven-point dogs – and are right in the thick of the playoff race. The Bengals have made the postseason in three straight seasons but have not won a playoff game since 1990.
(Photo credit: emeybee (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)