Steelers vs. Bengals final score: Pittsburgh clinches AFC North with 27-17 win
The Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC North title and will face the Baltimore Ravens after beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-17.
The Bengals were coming off of a Monday Night Football win against the Denver Broncos that launched them into the playoffs for the fourth straight year. The Steelers were looking for an AFC North title after winning three straight games (including a win in Cincinnati.) On the final Sunday of the NFL season, the Steelers got the win and the AFC North crown, winning, 27-17. Here’s what we learned.
1. The Steelers’ OL could be the key to playoff success.
Ben Roethlisberger is one of the league’s best quarterbacks, and he’s especially good when he’s got time in the pocket. Against the league’s 10th-best defense in points allowed, the Steelers gave their veteran quarterback ample time to run through his progressions and find his targets — particularly Le’Veon Bell, who had 80 yards receiving before he left the game with a knee injury. Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown had one of his best games of the season with 128 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including one on a punt return. Going up against the Bengals secondary (including cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who had constant issues keeping Brown contained), Brown and the rest of the Steelers’ receiving corps had solid games.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton faced a lot more pressure throughout the game. The Steelers’ linebackers keyed on Dalton throughout the game, limiting his time in the pocket and making it difficult for him to get the ball to running backs like Jeremy Hill. Hill had another great game (and now has more than 1,000 yards rushing on the season), but it wasn’t enough against the Steelers D. Adding in the fact A.J.Green left late in the game due to a head injury, and it was a long day for the Bengals offense.
2. Which Andy Dalton will show up in the playoffs?
Despite all the pressure on him from the Steelers’ defense (which has really come into its own since the Steelers’ loss to the New Orleans Saints a few weeks ago) and an early interception, Dalton had a surprisingly strong game. He finished with two touchdowns and 244 yards through the air. Dalton stayed strong in the pocket, was able to move past earlier mistakes and got the game within three points with a big touchdown pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham.
But that’s regular season Andy Dalton. Playoffs Andy Dalton is winless (with three ugly losses — two to the Houston Texans, one to the San Diego Chargers) and has never performed well under the spotlight. Could better performances on Monday Night Football and against the Steelers on Sunday signify better times ahead? It’s hard to say.
3. Three teams from the AFC North made the playoffs. Who will last the longest?
The Steelers, Bengals and Baltimore Ravens will all play in the postseason. All three have had impressive wins, but all three have had inexplicable losses (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh?) In the NFL’s most confusing division, three teams will have the opportunity to make big statements. The Bengals can score, the Steelers’ defense is strong and the Ravens can perform on both sides of the ball. With the Steelers taking on the Ravens and the Bengals playing the Indianapolis Colts, at least one AFC North team will make it past the first round — but that’s all we know for sure.