Robert Geathers is set to play his 152nd game as a Bengal, one more than Chad Johnson and two fewer than the original Bengal Bob Johnson, and no one has a better perspective of Sunday's AFC North title game (8:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Pittsburgh pitting the 10-5 Steelers and the 10-4-1 Bengals.
"Both teams know what it takes. We have to win up front. The big guys have to win it," said Geathers before Friday's practice, one of those guys on the defensive line.
"Running the ball. Stopping the run. Getting pressure on the quarterback. Both teams are built like that."
Geathers remembers when the Bengals were still building. He arrived via the fourth round in 2004, also the rookie year of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
He's watched Roethlisberger get to the Super Bowl three times, but Geathers has also been a part of three division titles and seen the Bengals qualify for the post-season five times in the last six seasons, a feat matched by only the Patriots, Colts, and Packers.
And since 2012, the Bengals are 31-15-1 for a .670 regular-season winning percentage, tops in the rough-and-tumble AFC North and behind only Denver with 37 wins, New England (36), Seattle (35) and Indianapolis (32) in the NFL.
"When I first got here, if you looked at the division and how the teams ran the ball with those running backs, we had to get that fixed," said Geathers of the days Jerome Bettis and Jamal Lewis roamed the North. "Get bigger and get stronger, get physical up front on both sides of the ball. When I first got here, we had some things going on offense and we were able to turn it around on defense."
Don't look now, but what's old is new. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is a reincarnation of "The Bus." Bengals rookie running back Jeremy Hill is racking up numbers not seen since the days of Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson. When Pittsburgh beat the Bengals back on Dec. 7, 42-21, the game turned on Bell's 185 rushing yards. In the five other games in this six-game stretch the Bengals lead the NFL at 5-1, they haven't allowed more than 85 yards rushing in a game.
"They kind of out-physicaled us up front. They kind of threw us around a little bit,' Geathers said. "We have to correct some things and play a lot better."
But there is no panic from Geathers. "The Dean," saw the Bengals dig a play-off berth out of a game in Pittsburgh two years ago and in their last 15 December games, they are 12-3. In his first 15 December games, they were 8-7.
"We just have to play physical and gap sound," Geathers said, 'and we'll be all right."
INJURY UPDATE: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton pronounced himself 100 percent before heading out to his second straight full-go practice Friday morning after missing Wednesday with the flu and his favorite target went full go with him. Wide receiver A.J. Green (bicep), was limited Thursday after getting hurt in Monday's game against Denver, but he had the wraps taken off Friday and was pronounced probable.
But starting cornerback Terence Newman missed his third practice of the week with the illness and now the question is if Dre Kirkpatrick gets the start Sunday in Pittsburgh (8:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) after he replaced Newman in the middle of the third quarter Monday. Also missing from Friday's practice with an ilness was third cornerback Adam Jones. Both have been classified as questionable. Safety Reggie Nelson returned to practice Friday after missing the first two days with illness and was limited and has also been called questionable.
So were SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring) and wide receiver James Wright (knee), who were limited all week.
Also under the weather Friday was left guard Clint Boling, listed as probable despite missing the workout. Kicker Mike Nugent, limited Friday after missing Thursday with the bug, also listed as probable.
Tight end Tyler Eifert surfaced in the locker rooom Friday morning with his arm in a sling, indicating that he's gone ahead and had season-ending shoulder surgery. Eifert has been on injured reserve recall since the opener with a dislocated elbow, but he was going to need shoulder surgery in the offseason for an injury he suffered in training camp even if he did come back.
Head coach Marvin Lewis on Friday confirmed the shoulder procedure took place about two weeks ago when it became clear the elbow didn't bounce back as quickly as hoped.
WEATHER CHECK: The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio, says showers are likely with a game-time temperature of 41 degrees and north west winds of about five to 10 miles per hour. Showers diminish as game goes on with the temperature dropping to about 34 degrees.