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Week 17 Preview: Bengals at Steelers

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Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)

Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh — TV: NBC

*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

*Keys to the game: The Bengals and Steelers square off with the AFC North title going to the winner.

Seven of the past nine meetings in the series went to the Steelers, who pulled away at Cincinnati in a 42-21 decision Dec. 7 on the legs of Le’Veon Bell. The running back’s 235 yards and three touchdowns exposed a season-long flaw for the Bengals, who missed tackles and assignments in the open field.

The Bengals’ plan to protect QB Andy Dalton and their own run defense is to feed rookie RB Jeremy Hill, who gained at least 140 rushing yards for the fourth time this season in Monday’s win over the Broncos that put the team in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. The Steelers neutralized Hill by building a big lead, forcing the Bengals to go to the air, but Hill averaged 5.8 yards per carry on his eight totes.

Dalton should have WR A.J. Green in the mix, but how healthy Green is will not be known until he takes the field. Green, who caught 11 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown in the Dec. 7 loss, sustained a bruised forearm Monday.

The Steelers now revolve around Bell. QB Ben Roethlisberger is better for it, and he posted a 118.5 passer rating with 350 passing yards and three TDs in the previous meeting.

Cincinnati uses bump coverage outside, a risk that backfires when the Bengals can’t bring down the quarterback.

*Matchup to watch — Steelers WRs Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown vs. Bengals CBs Terence Newman and Leon Hall: Bryant averaged 27.3 yards on four receptions with a 94-yard touchdown in Week 14. Brown has 20 receptions in the past three meetings.

*Player spotlight — Steelers OLB Jason Worilds: He is one of two Steelers with 6.5 sacks, but he is the only one making more than $10 million as the team’s designated franchise player. Worilds was dominated in the first meeting with the Bengals but had two sacks last week against the Chiefs.

*Fast facts: Roethlisberger needs 365 passing yards to reach 5,000 in 2014. … Curtis Martin (1995) was the last rookie with four games of 140-plus rushing yards before Hill. … Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is 7-17 against the Steelers.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Bell tolls again. Cincinnati has had bouts of incompetence against the NFL’s best running games, and while improvement is noted, Bell’s history and the Steelers’ layered plan keeps Pittsburgh in the AFC North driver’s seat.

*Our pick: Steelers 23-20


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