NFL Wire News

Peaking Steelers bullish on winner-takes-division clash


PITTSBURGH — The Steelers have won more AFC North championships than any of their rivals, but they have not won the division since 2010. They will seek AFC North title No. 7 on Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Really, you just want to get into the dance (playoffs), but obviously any time you can be a champion of your division, that’s huge, that’s bragging rights,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

That’s a home game. The loser plays at the Indianapolis Colts and no matter that the Steelers beat the Colts 51-34 on Oct. 26, they want no part of the dome in Indianapolis nor of Andrew Luck again after he torched their defense for 400 yards and three touchdowns in Heinz Field.

Ben Roethlisberger has been the starting quarterback for five division champion teams, and would like to make it a sixth.

“That’s a pretty neat thing,” Roethlisberger said. “We haven’t had one in a while. We would like to get it back. They give you a hat and a t-shirt, which is pretty cool. But we will take the other ones later.”

If the Steelers win, they will enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak, as they did in 2005 when they went on to win their fifth of six Super Bowls. They also believe they are peaking, playing better defense and becoming more balanced on an offense that ranks No. 1 in yards produced and seventh in points.

“We are going in the right direction. We are definitely heating up,” said running back Le’Veon Bell. “I think we are playing the best football we have all year, collectively as a group. I am not talking about just the offense, defense or special teams. Collectively as a group, all three together, we are playing really well.

“We aren’t turning the ball over. We are getting turnovers. We are flipping the field on special teams.”

At one point, the Steelers were 3-3 and being reminded they were a mediocre 19-19 since the start of 2012 after consecutive 8-8 seasons. Fans and some in the media were calling for the heads of both coordinators, ageless Dick LeBeau on defense and Todd Haley on offense, even to boot general manager Kevin Colbert and possibly Tomlin.

Now, the lot of them look much better as they head into the playoffs. There also is not likely to be any major changes in staff or front office after the season – not that the Rooneys had plans to do that anyway. But two years out of the playoffs for the Steelers are two years too many.

“You look at our locker room, those guys expect to go to the playoffs,” said safety Mike Mitchell, who joined them as a free agent this year. “It’s not like we’re shocked or anything like that. It’s OK, glad we’re in, let’s try to win the division championship and go from there.”

SERIES HISTORY: 89th meeting, the Steelers lead the series 54-34, including a 29-15 record in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won their first meeting with the Bengals in Cincinnati, 42-21, on Dec. 7. They also won their previous meeting in Pittsburgh last season, 30-20. The Steelers are 7-2 vs. Cincinnati since 2010 and 22-8 in the 2000s. Pittsburgh won the only postseason game against the Bengals, in Cincinnati in the 2005 season, 31-17, to start their run toward their fifth Lombardi Trophy.

NOTES: CB Ike Taylor (shoulder, forearm), who missed the past two games and has played only five this season, was limited in practice on Wednesday. … SS Troy Polamalu (knee), who missed the past game and three of the past six, was limited in practice. … TE Matt Spaeth (elbow), who missed the past game, went through a full practice. … OT Kelvin Beachum (lower back) went through a full practice.

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