Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. Eastern.
Television: CBS broadcast with Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (analyst) and Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter). The game will air in the Bengals home market on WKRC-TV (Channel 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Channel 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Channel 27) in Lexington.
Radio: Coverage on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
Setting the scene: Still very much in the race for the AFC North Division, the Cincinnati Bengals this week come off a bye looking for a third straight win, taking on the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field. The Steelers, meanwhile, have their sights set on expanding and solidifying their lead over the rest of the division.
At 2-3, the Bengals still trail the 4-2 Steelers and the 3-3 Baltimore Ravens. But a win over the Steelers this Sunday would even Cincinnati's record at 3-3 and put the Bengals within striking distance of a division lead themselves. Considering that would be the case after the squad opened the season 0-3, such a win may be a little more meaningful than usual for them, and perhaps a little more rewarding.
Two weeks ago, Cincinnati bested a 3-1 Buffalo Bills squad 20-16 at Paul Brown Stadium for their second straight victory, continuing a streak of steady improvement that began in Week 3 at Green Bay.
After starting the season 0-2 with disappointing home losses to Baltimore and Houston, the Bengals seemingly began to turn a corner against the Packers, particularly on offense. Cincinnati failed to score a touchdown in either of its first two contests, but the offense came to life in Week 3 at Green Bay, jumping out to an early 21-7 lead and controlling that advantage for most of the game before eventually succumbing to a Packers comeback, losing 27-24 in overtime. In Game 4 at Cleveland, the Bengals' offense erupted for four TDs and a FG in a 31-7 win. And against the Bills, the Bengals won despite three turnovers (two interceptions and one lost fumble).
"We spotted everybody else a couple of games, and we weren't playing the way we wanted to," QB Andy Dalton said of Cincinnati's slow start to the season. "In the Green Bay game, we got back to playing the way we knew we could. Obviously we weren't able to finish that one. But we've won two in a row now, and we're going to try and find a way to win this next one with Pittsburgh."
Cincinnati's offense, which averaged just 258.0 yards and 4.5 points in the first two games, has averaged 346.3 yards and 25.0 points in the three games since. Dalton, particularly, has helped lead that turnaround. He had a 47.2 passer rating after the first two contests (completing 36 of 66 passes [54.5 percent] for 394 yards, zero TDs and four INTs), but he has had a 116.2 rating in the last three (68 of 93 passes [73.1 percent] for 826 yards, seven TDs and two INTs).
It's the Bengals' defense, however, which may deserve the most praise. That unit has been churning out solid performances all season thus far. In fact, it has given up a total of just 1314 net yards. That stands as the fewest total net yards given up through the first five games of a Bengals season since 1976, when that squad gave up just 1213.
The Bengals' defensive exploits thus far this season perhaps were most obvious against the Bills. Cincinnati, which allowed Buffalo to score just one offensive touchdown, held Bills QB Tyrod Taylor to a passer rating of just 63.6 while sporting a relentless pass rush that sacked him six times, including three times in the fourth quarter alone. The Bills' offense managed only 221 total net yards, including just 36 in the second half.
"After looking at the tape of the Bills game, one of the areas I was probably most pleased about was that we continued to do a good job tackling on defense," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "That's been important all year. For the most part, our 11 guys on defense fit pretty well together. We've had a few plays break down — things that are very manageable and fixable — but overall, we are doing a good job defensively."
This week's Bengals-Steelers game features two of the NFL's top three defenses in net yards allowed. The Bengals rank No. 2 (giving up an average of just 262.8) and the Steelers rank No. 3 (272.0). Additionally, both the Bengals and Steelers rank in the league's top five in points allowed, with the Bengals standing at No. 2 (16.6 points per game) and the Steelers at No. 4 (17.0).
The series: The Steelers lead 60-35 overall and 31-16 as the home team. The series includes two postseason games, both Steelers wins in Wild Card round contests at Paul Brown Stadium, in the 2005 and '15 seasons.
The Bengals have played more games against the Steelers (95) than any other foe. Cleveland is second in that category at 88, and Tennessee (formerly Houston Oilers) is third at 74.
Team bests from the series:
Bengals — MOST POINTS: 42, in a 42-7 win at Riverfront Stadium in 1988. LARGEST VICTORY MARGIN: 35, from the 1988 home win. FEWEST POINTS ALLOWED: 3, in a 27-3 win at Riverfront in 1990.
Steelers — MOST POINTS: 49, in a 49-31 victory at Riverfront Stadium in 1995. LARGEST VICTORY MARGIN: 28 (twice), most recently in a 35-7 win in 2011 at Pittsburgh. FEWEST POINTS ALLOWED: 0 (twice), most recently in a 15-0 win at Three Rivers Stadium in 2000.
Bengals vs. Big Ben: Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger has an 87.4 passer rating in 28 career games against the Bengals (including postseason). His won-lost record is 21-7. Roethlisberger has totaled 882 passes against Cincinnati, with 557 completions (63.2 percent) for 6577 yards (234.9 yards per game), with 38 TDs and 27 INTs.
Records vs. Steelers: Former Bengals WR Carl Pickens caught 13 passes against the Steelers on Oct. 11, 1998 at Cinergy Field, a number no Bengal has reached before or since. There have been 11 instances of a Bengal finishing a game with 12 catches, including by WR A.J. Green in last year's season opener at the N.Y. Jets, but 13 catches remains in a class by itself.
Pickens had 204 receiving yards in the game, a 25-20 Bengals victory. QB Neil O'Donnell, a former Steeler, was the passer for all 13 catches.
Other Bengals records involving the Steelers include:
● On Oct. 28, 1973, Pittsburgh S Mike Wagner became the first opponent to intercept three passes in a game against the Bengals. Four players have tied that since.
● On Nov. 10, 1974 at Cincinnati, QB Ken Anderson set the Bengals' game record for completion percentage (90.91), hitting 20 of 22 against the Steelers.
● On Oct. 16 1994 at Cincinnati, the Bengals set a team record with eight sacks, all on Pittsburgh's Neil O'Donnell. That mark has since been tied once.
● On Oct. 19, 1995, the Bengals allowed the most yards in franchise history (468) without allowing a TD in a 27-9 win vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium.
● On Oct. 15, 2000, Pittsburgh's Josh Miller tied for the most punts ever against the Bengals with 12.
● On Dec. 30, 2001 at Cincinnati, Jon Kitna had a Bengals-record 68 pass attempts in an overtime win over the Steelers.
Individually vs. Steelers: Current Bengals' past offensive performances for Cincinnati against Pittsburgh include:
● WR A.J. Green: 12 games; 77 receptions for 1046 yards (6.4 catches and 87.2 yards per game), with seven TDs.
● QB Andy Dalton: 12 games; 235-for-403 passing (58.3 percent) for 2557 yards (213.1 yards per game), with 13 TDs and 11 INTs (76.5 rating).
● QB AJ McCarron: Two games; 45-for-73 passing (61.6 percent) for 492 yards, with three TDs and three INTs (78.1 rating).
● HB Giovani Bernard: Eight games; 48 rushes for 192 yards (4.0) with two TDs; 29 receptions for 258 yards (8.9).
● HB Jeremy Hill: Seven games; 96 rushes for 337 yards (3.5), with two TDs; 15 receptions for 119 yards (7.9)
● TE Tyler Eifert (Reserve/Injured): Six games; 15 receptions for 231 yards (15.4), with one TD.
● H-back Ryan Hewitt: Six games; Five receptions for 62 yards (12.4).
● TE Tyler Kroft: Five games; Five receptions for 66 yards (12.5).
● TE C.J. Uzomah: Three games; Three receptions for nine yards (3.0).
● WR Tyler Boyd: Two games; Eight receptions for 91 yards (11.4).
● WR Alex Erickson: Two games; One reception for 20 yards.
● WR Brandon LaFell: Two games; 10-for-130 receiving (13.0).
● WR Cody Core: One game; Two receptions for 13 yards (6.5).
Defense riding league-best sack streak: The Bengals recorded six sacks on Oct. 8 vs. Buffalo, extending their streak of games with at least one sack to a league-leading 34 games (regular-season only). The next-closest teams are Washington (29) and Arizona (26).
The Bengals' streak began in Week 4 of 2015, in a 36-21 home win over Kansas City in which the defense tallied five sacks. The Bengals were last held without a sack the week before, in a 28-24 Cincinnati win on Sept. 27, 2015 at Baltimore.
The longest streak of this type in Bengals history came in the early 1980s, when the team strung together 50 consecutive games with a sack over parts of five seasons (Nov. 8, 1981 to Sept. 15, 1985). The most recent NFL team to reach 34 was Green Bay, whose streak of 42 spanned from 2012 to '15.
Over Cincinnati's 34-game streak, the Bengals have recorded 87 sacks for 545 yards. Twenty-one different Bengals have at least a half sack over the span, and the defense has logged more than one sack in 24 of the 34 games. DT Geno Atkins has totaled the most sacks during the current streak, with 22, and he has recorded at least a half sack in 19 of the games. DE Carlos Dunlap is a close second, with 20, and has logged at least a half sack in 16 different games.
Through the first five games of 2017, eight different Bengals have recorded at least one sack. The Bengals have 18 sacks this season, ranked tied for fifth in the NFL, with the four teams ahead of Cincinnati having played six games to the Bengals' five.
Bengals' D gets off the field: The Bengals' defense this year has proven adept at forcing opposing offenses off the field in a hurry. The defense has held opponents without a first down on 25 drives (out of 59 total) this season, good for ninth-most in the NFL (the Bengals have played only five games, due to a Week 6 bye). That means opposing offenses this season have failed to make a first down on 42.4 percent their drives against the Bengals, a rate that ranks third in the NFL.
These instances are typically referred to as 'three-and-outs,' although they technically include all possessions in which the opposing offense is held without a first down.
In their last game, the Bengals held Buffalo without a first down on five drives.
Bengals D top five in seven categories: The Bengals' defense has gotten off to a roaring start in 2017, with top-five rankings in seven defensive categories.
The Bengals are allowing 262.8 yards per contest, good for a No. 2 ranking league-wide in total defense. They're also allowing a league-best 4.2 yards per play. The defense has held opponents to fewer than 270 total yards in four of its five contests so far this season, including outings of 215 (at Cleveland) and 221 (vs. Buffalo) in the last two games.
The Bengals have led the league in total defense just once in team history — in 1983, when they allowed 270.4 yards per game.
Cincinnati also ranks second against the pass (159.6 yards per game) and first in yards per pass play (4.4). The Bengals' best league ranking against the pass for a full season is second, achieved in both 1993 (174.9) and '75 (123.5).
The Bengals also rank second in sacks per pass play (.10; 18 sacks in 188 pass plays), fourth in first downs allowed per game (17.2) and second in scoring defense (16.8 points per game).
Bengals D keeps 'em off the board: The Bengals defense has made its mark in scoring defense over the last few seasons, and that momentum has carried into 2017. The unit currently ranks second in the NFL in points per game, allowing only 16.6. Dating back to Week 10 of last season, when the defense held Buffalo to 16 points in a losing effort at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals have held opponents to fewer than 20 points in nine of the last 12 games. Over that 12-week stretch, they've held opponents to an average of 15.7 points per contest.
The Bengals last season finished eighth in scoring defense (19.7), thanks in large part to a seven-game stretch to close the year in which it held opponents under 20 points six times while allowing a scoring average of 15.0. That followed a 2015 campaign in which they ranked second in scoring defense (17.4). In 2014, Paul Guenther's first as defensive coordinator, Cincinnati ranked 12th in scoring defense.
"My job is to limit points, period," Guenther said. "That's what I get paid to do. It's not holding them to 200 yards but have three plays be touchdowns. Regardless of where they get the ball — if we turn it over (on offense) and it's the 10-yard line — let's go play defense. Hold them to three. I'm paid to keep them off the scoreboard."
Also of note regarding the defense:
● Cincinnati also has a top-10 ranking this season (tied for sixth) in red-zone TD percentage, allowing TDs on only six of 14 opponent trips inside the 20 (42.9 percent). The defense finished 2016 ranked seventh in that category, allowing TDs on only 51 percent of opponent chances in the red zone (25 of 49).
Bengals-Steelers connections: 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 QB Ben Roethlisberger is from Findlay, Ohio (Findlay High School), and played at Miami (Ohio) University ... Steelers LB James Harrison played for the Bengals in 2013 ... Bengals WR 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), and played at Ohio University ... Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell is from Reynoldsburg, Ohio (Groveport Madison 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 TE for the Steelers from 1994-96 ... Steelers DE Cameron Heyward and LB Ryan Shazier played at Ohio State University ... Steelers CB William Gay, WR Eli Rogers and LB Keith Kelsey (practice squad) played at the University of Louisville ... Steelers LBs Bud Dupree and Farrington Huguenin (practice squad) played at the University of Kentucky ... Steelers P Jordan Berry played at Eastern Kentucky University ... Steelers LB L.J. Fort spent time on the Bengals practice squad in 2014 ... Bengals LB 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 ... Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann coached at the University of Louisville from 1980-81 ... Bengals TE Scott Orndoff (practice squad) played at Pitt, and was originally a 2017 CFA with the Steelers and was with the team for part of training camp ... Bengals K Randy Bullock was with the Steelers briefly during the 2016 season.