PITTSBURGH – The Steelers will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception prior to Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
They also hope to keep Cincinnati from celebrating something no Bengals team has accomplished in 30 years – make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
The Steelers (7-7) will need to beat the Bengals (8-6) then defeat the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 to claim a playoff spot of their own.
So, the Steelers and Bengals are in a playoff elimination game today at Heinz Field.
With a more veteran team, the Steelers hope their experience in big games will help them against the upstart Bengals.
“I think that a lot of the guys in this locker room have been there before,” said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “They understand that this is a playoff game for us. It’s a playoff game for them. Does that mean the outcome is going to be in our favor just because of that? No. But I think that it does help us, especially being at home.
“I’m sure the fans are going to come out and be rowdy and excited and treat it as a playoff game. That’s what we hope and expect from them because we’re going to give our all as if it is a playoff game.”
As crazy as it sounds, both teams have a chance to host a playoff game as AFC North champion.
Baltimore (9-5) clinched a playoff spot last week because of the Steelers’ 27-24 overtime loss at Dallas. But the Ravens have lost three games in a row and host the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants today before travelling to Cincinnati next week to close out the regular season.
Baltimore needs to win one of those two games to clinch the AFC North. If not, things get interesting.
If Cincinnati and Baltimore finish tied at 9-7, the Ravens win the AFC North and the Bengals are the wild card.
If the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens each finish at 9-7, Pittsburgh wins the AFC North based on a better record head-to-head among those three teams. The Ravens will be a wild card, and the Bengals season will be over.
Talk about pressure.
“I think it’s on both teams,” said Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green. “It’s going to be like a playoff game for both of us. It’s a must-win for both of us. It’s going to be a great game.”
The Steelers hope to keep Green, one of the top receivers in the NFL, from having a great game as they did in a Week 6 meeting in Cincinnati, won by Pittsburgh, 24-17.
The Steelers outgained the Bengals, 431-185, in total yards, limiting Green to a season-low one catch for eight yards – though that one catch was a touchdown.
Cornerback Ike Taylor drew the matchup against Green in that game, but he will not play in this one, missing a third straight contest with a hairline fracture in his ankle. That will leave the task of slowing Green to third-year cornerback Keenan Lewis, who missed practice time this week with hip and knee injuries.
“A little bit of that is luck, too, because you’re not going to hold Green to one catch (every week),” said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “We’ll let (Lewis) match up with him and certainly keep him from controlling the game, or we’re not going to be successful.”
The Steelers haven’t been too successful in recent weeks. They have lost their past two and four of five, though three of those games were played without Roethlisberger, who owns a 14-4 record against the Bengals. Cincinnati has won five of its past six games.
“Your scuffles get over in a week and so can your hotness,” said Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis, a McDonald native and Fort Cherry High School graduate. “We’ve got to play good football and continue to do the things that give you an opportunity to win. What happened last week doesn’t matter a bit for this game. We know we’re playing a very good team led by a great quarterback, and we’ve got to play well.”
And the loser knows they can probably start thinking about next year.
“If we don’t win, we don’t get a chance to go to the playoffs,” said Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton. “If you don’t go to the playoffs, you don’t get a chance to go to the Super Bowl. I think guys in this locker room understand that, and I think there’s nothing else that needs to be said about it.”