You've been through the playoff process for the last five years. What have you learned, and do you do anything differently now?
"I don't think we change much of what we do. Every time the situation is different. Every one is a different situation; the health of your football team, when you play, where you play, it all changes. I think our guys understand how to prepare, and we're not going to alter much from what we've done all season."
Do you think Andy will throw today?
"Andy continues to progress well. He's doing just what he's supposed to do."
What have you seen from AJ McCarron these past three weeks?
"I'm being repetitive with it, but we're pleased with with AJ's preparation, his 'diving into everything' mentality, and how anxious for this opportunity he has been throughout the season. It's how he's gone about it, how he's directed the football team and assumed the role of leader of the offense. He knows the hat's on his head, and number one, it's paramount to direct the offense and do his part and take care of the football."
Do you already know who your quarterback is going to be?
"I said that yesterday. We're preparing with AJ McCarron to be the starting QB. Whether Andy is the backup or where Andy is, we'll know down the line. He'll be ready when he's ready."
Is there a challenge during the week to make sure mentally none of the playoff history catches up to the team?
"I think the players want to be in the same spot. They've earned the opportunity to be in this spot. You don't want to shortchange that. They know what's on the line. They're one of 12 teams now, and after this weekend it goes down to eight quickly. They understand the urgency of that."
Are you worried about a 'here we go again' feeling?
"Players don't go into that. I think other people do. We don't have enough time for that. There's not been a situation like that. Those are your words."
So you don't worry about it?
"I don't think its an issue. You look around and there's 20 new guys from a year ago, and 40 from two years ago. It's part of it. I don't think there is a 'here we go again' feeling.
Is there anything special A.J. Hawk brings to the defense come playoff time?
"No I think AJ is what he's been all season; a guy with a lot of experience from a very successful program. That kind of confidence and preparation is vital as you go through."
Is there anything you can do to prevent some of the chippiness issues from the last game against Pittsburgh?
"We addressed the last game with the team right after we played it."
Given your first experience against the Steelers, is there extra, personal motivation for you to play well?
"I tried to leave myself out of it. It's a playoff game. This is a team. We are going to win as a team. We are focusing on winning this game. Not me personally, but this team. That's our Number 1 goal."
Does it help that you are playing against a known quantity in the Steelers?
"It helps, with this being a shorter week than what you are used to. It definitely helps. We have to go out and execute and play our game."
Do you have an understanding for the rivalry between the Bengals and Steelers?
"I look at it as a football game. I don't know if I need to go deep into the rivalry. I know it's a competitive game between two great organizations with a lot of history. It's still football."
How helpful has it been to see game repetitions to get ready, versus where you were three or four weeks ago?
"I don't think seeing other 3-4 defenses matter, because they are all different. Pittsburgh is a little different than Baltimore. I'm going to watch the film I need to watch and prepare the way I need to prepare. Being able to get reps in the last game and being able to see them for three quarters is definitely helpful for myself. I'm going to prepare like I always do and get ready to play a game."
With the improved rushing game, do you feel like you are going in to the playoffs with any added wrinkles for opposing defenses?
"It's pretty much the same stuff. Jake (Fisher) did a really good job last week. I don't know what the plan is for (Ryan) Hewitt's return, but we have confidence in Jake for him to go out and perform the way he needs. I don't know if it's considered a new wrinkle or not."
How much better are you seeing the field than you did four weeks ago against the Steelers?
"The first couple of snaps reminded me of my first high school game playing Carter-Montgomery, and I jokingly came to the sideline and asked my offensive coordinator if they had more than 11 people on the field. It definitely helps to have had the time and experience in between. I feel comfortable in the way we are playing and the way we are taking care of the football. I feel fine."
How are you trying to embrace or enjoy this opportunity?
"I'm taking it one day at a time. That's the only way I know how. I'm not the kind of person to say, 'What if'. I don't think into the future or live in the past. It's just the present right now. I'm having fun with it. Even this press conference is something I'll be able to tell my son about some day. It's a cool experience. Not everybody gets to do it. It makes you realize how blessed we are as people, as athletes. It's an awesome opportunity."
Having played for college football's national championship, does it help prepare you for the NFL playoffs?
"Yes. I would like to think so. I played in some big games in college. There is a lot of media getting down there before national championship games. There were distractions in Miami and New Orleans. I feel like this is comfortable. I get to go home to my house every day and see my wife and little dog. I get to sit on my couch and watch film. It's definitely fun."
What's bigger, a national championship game or an NFL playoff game?
"I don't know. I'm enjoying this moment right now. It's something special. A lot of my family gets to enjoy this moment. They get to come and watch me play. I'm just living every day. I'm having fun doing it. I can't complain."
Does Andy Dalton's injury status affect your mentality?
"I can't worry about things that I can't control. All I know is that I need to focus on what I can focus on. Andy's like a big brother to me. I wish him nothing but the best and a fast recovery. At the same time, my mindset is, this is my offense right now. I need to take it and go win."
Does it help being a young guy, unburdened by the team's streak of not having won a playoff game?
"The way that it's talked about here is so much of a negative. It reminds me of Alabama, of living in the past and how many national championships we had as a university. How many losses we had in the postseason.
"It's a different team every year. And it's hard to get to the playoffs, period, in this league. It's extremely hard to win a game. There's not a reason to live in the past. I don't think this team does that by any means. Last year was last year. Just living in the present moment. We have a healthy life. We have great teammates. Let's go have fun in the game we grew up playing and see what happens. If we play the game we are supposed to play and leave it all out there on the field, the chances are good for us."
Are you surprised by the negativity around the Bengals postseason history?
"Well, we still have a lot of fans that were there back in those days. They want to see greatness. That's what I love about this fan base. Both fan bases (Alabama and Bengals) strive for perfection. I feel like that's what makes you play your best game possible each and every day. It's because you don't want to let not only yourself or your team down, but also your city. It's pressure. I love it. It's awesome.
Is it meaningful that your first NFL playoff game is against a team that might be called the Alabama of the NFL? They've won a lot of big games …
"The whole mindset behind this game is awesome. I grew up seeing the Steelers play. I told Big Ben (Roethlisberger) after the last game that I went to the GMAC Bowl (in McCarron's hometown of Mobile, Ala.) and watched him play for at Miami (Ohio). After the game, I went under the stadium to the locker room and saw his mom, dad, sister and him. I remember him giving me a wristband and how cool it was. He started dying laughing when I told him how I remembered that. That's what is crazy about this. A young kid from Mobile, Ala., watched the GMAC Bowl, and later he's playing against one of the best quarterbacks in the league. It's awesome."
What did you do with the wristband?
"I don't know. I'd be lying if I told you that I put it in a trophy case."
Is there more trash talking in NFL games or college?
"I don't know. I zone out. People may not believe that, but it's kind of like 'For the Love of the Game'. Kevin Costner (as pitcher Billy Chapel) says, 'Clear the mechanism.' It's kind of like tunnel vision. He blocks everything out. It's a great movie."
Do you remember watching the 2005 playoff game between the Bengals and Steelers, when Carson Palmer was lost to the knee injury? "No, I don't think I saw that one."