Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati Bengals are off to a hot start and sit in first place in the AFC North, but they are not taking that position for granted. The Bengals will try to make a statement and push aside one of their biggest rivals when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
The Steelers were the easy pick to repeat as AFC North champions, but it was Cincinnati that exploded out of the gate by winning four of the first five games while scoring an average of 30.6 points – fourth in the NFL. “We handle things by blocking out all of the noise and continuing to grind,” Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green told reporters. “Nobody gave us a chance when the season started. Why do they believe in us now? We’re going to continue to keep playing and keep playing for each other.” Pittsburgh is finally starting to build some positive momentum and thrashed Atlanta 41-17 in Week 5 while leaning on running back James Conner, who is stepping out of Le’Veon Bell’s shadow while his more famous teammate is away from the team. “He is staying focused and working on his craft,” offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert told reporters of Conner. “The way he handles himself, even before he was drafted, he carried himself as a professional. He earned a lot of respect from guys around here. We love him. We love his presence. We love him as a player. We hope he keeps building and gets the opportunity to showcase his talents.”
TV: 1 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Bengals -2. O/U: 52.5.
ABOUT THE STEELERS (2-2-1): A big issue during the team’s 1-2-1 start was the play of the defense, but the victory over Atlanta marked a big step in the right direction for the unit. The Steelers held the Falcons to 62 yards rushing and sacked Matt Ryan six times, with linebacker T.J. Watt leading the way at three sacks and a forced fumble. “Everything we do is a team stat,” Watt told reporters while heaping praise on the rest of the defense. “We realize that as a team, if we want to be great, we all have to do our job and accept whoever gets the play and be happy for everybody. … I think it will be a great boost for us.”
ABOUT THE BENGALS (4-1): Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been in the middle of several controversial plays in games against the Steelers over the years, and his presence in the middle of the Cincinnati defense makes it a more dangerous unit. Burfict returned from a four-game suspension last week and recorded seven tackles while helping a defense that scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in the 27-17 triumph over Miami. Burfict logged 34 snaps in the win and could see his playing time increase on Sunday despite his history against the Steelers, which includes past hits that injured Bell and star receiver Antonio Brown.
1. Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (knee) missed practice on Thursday while WR John Ross (groin) was limited.
2. Steelers S Morgan Burnett (groin) sat out the last three games and is unlikely to return on Sunday.
3. Pittsburgh is enjoying a six-game winning streak in the series, including four straight at Cincinnati.