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Bengals vs. Steelers game is critical

On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals are taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Cincinnati is slowly starting to turn many doubters into believers, with the 6-0 start that Andy Dalton and Co. have authored.

Dalton and the Bengals have long been seen as chokers in the AFC, a team good enough to make the playoffs but limited enough to do nothing once they reached them. In 2015, Dalton seems like a new man, looking long and find a host of receivers early and often including A.J. Green and Marvin Jones. The red-headed quarterback also has plenty of other weapons including Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.

However, the Steelers remain as a looming threat. Despite being two and a half games off the divisional pace, Pittsburgh is about to be much healthier, and much more dangerous. The Steelers have been playing since the second half of Week 3 without All-Pro starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who injured his MCL against the St. Louis Rams. Initially, many believed Roethlisberger tore his ACL, but tests confirmed a sprained MCL, saving Pittsburgh’s season.

Now, Roethlisberger is set to return in front of a raucous crowd, in a setting right out of an Americana painting. Roethlisberger’s return means increased productivity out of all the weapons, including receiver Antonio Brown, running back Le’Veon Bell and tight end Heath Miller.

Brown is a prime example. He has caught 46 passes for 671 yards and two touchdowns, despite playing with Michael Vick and Landry Jones for the past four games. Add in that fellow receiver Martavis Bryant was suspended for the first four games of the season, and it stands to reason that Brown is set to explode down the stretch.

If Cincinnati can beat the Steelers, especially with a presumably healthy Roethlisberger at the helm, the Bengals have to be considered an elite team. Cincinnati already beat the Seattle Seahawks and absolutely demolished the Oakland Raiders, a squad that has been playing much better since that Week 1 beating.

Pittsburgh needs this game to both stay in the AFC North race and to remain in good standing for the wild card. The Steelers are 4-3 and coming off a rough loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, who entered the game on a five-game losing streak. If the Steelers can win this game, the deficit would be just a game and a half with another matchupa against the Bengals coming down the road.

This should be a defining game for the AFC North in 2015. Pittsburgh will either announce its presence in the race or begin plans for a wild card berth. Cincinnati will either pull away and declare itself a legitimate contender, or fall back into the pack and hope to stave off a motivated Steelers team.

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