Form goes out the window whenever any of the AFC North teams go up against each other and Monday night should be no different as the Pittsburgh Steelers make the short trip to face the Cincinnati Bengals in the National Football League.
The Steelers are currently 9-2 and are pushing to make the playoffs as the top seed in the AFC while the Bengals, who are 5-6, are trying to make the playoffs through a wild-card win. Divisional matchups are important no matter the context of the season and both teams will be looking to get bragging rights by the time the final whistle blows.
Brown being questionable poses an interesting question for the Steelers
The latest injury report in the NFL listed Antonio Brown as questionable for this game with a toe injury. Brown is a vital part of the Pittsburgh offense and is on course to have another big year in the NFL. Brown has been in scintillating form for the Steelers, with 80 receptions for 1,195 yards and 8 touchdowns in all eleven of the Steelers games so far. Some of those receptions have included almost improbable catches that have helped the Steelers to their 9-2 record so his absence could pose a problem for the offense against what should be a motivated Bengals defense.
The Steelers do have options to cover Brown should he not be able to play against Cincinnati. Juju Smith-Schuster is back from his absence through injury and Martavis Bryant is starting to find his rhythm again in the Pittsburgh offense. Of course, Ben Roethlisberger can never be counted out and he will look to spread out the receptions to all of his receivers to make up for Brown's potential absence.
Le'Veon Bell is also a big target in both the run game and the passing game. Bell is on course to have an over 1,000 total rushing yard season with five touchdowns to his name, and his 61 receptions in the passing game make him another weapon for Roethlisberger to target should Brown be ruled out. There is no replacement for the sheer brilliance that Brown brings to the table but the Steelers have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to make up for the wide receiver's absence should he be officially out of the game.
The Bengals need to find their rushing game
With the speed that the Pittsburgh Steelers possess on their defense, the best way to slow them down is by having a strong rushing game or an effective short passing game. The Bengals have struggled to rush the ball and find themselves ranked 32nd in the league with just an average of 75.2 yards. That has to change if they want to beat the Steelers on Monday night as putting the game all in Andy Dalton's hands could play right into the Steelers game plan.
Joe Mixon has been the Bengals best running back this season, picking up four touchdowns with 484 total rushing yards. That will not be enough against the Steelers and the Bengals will probably have looked into doing something more in the rushing game in preparation for tonight's game.
Targeting A.J. Green will be another useful plan of attack for the Bengals. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell is doubtful for the game, and without him and the still injured Joe Haden, the Steelers secondary is a little vulnerable. Whichever corner will be marking Green may need help over the top and if that help does not arrive in a timely manner, Green could be the outlet that the Bengals need in third down or red zone situations.
The games between these two teams always end up being heated and tightly contested. Form is not something you can rely on when the AFC North teams go up against each other so it will all be about whichever team shows up and makes the least mistakes. The Steelers have enough talent to see this game through however even if Brown ends up not suiting up for the game.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 - 17 Cincinnati Bengals