The Pro Football Notebook

November 8, 2010 7:53 AM

Pittsburgh-Cincy Grudge Match On MNF

PittsburghvsCincyonMondayNightFootball.jpgCincinnati's season is slipping away from them as they get set to host Pittsburgh tonight for Monday Night Football (8:30 ET, ESPN). The Bengals are 2-5, their hopes of repeating as AFC North champions prematurely over. But they've got one thing to hang their hat on, and it's they've won five straight against the powers-that-be in this division, the Steelers and Ravens. Now they get their first crack at Pittsburgh tonight. From a personnel standpoint, Cincy has what it takes to compete and win this game. The Steelers are vulnerable on the corners and the combination of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco are as good a means as any to exploit that. This presupposes Carson Palmer getting time in the pocket and that sets up the real battle between the Bengal pass protection and the Steeler blitz packages, led by James Farrior and Lamarr Woodley. I think Cincy's going to make some big plays, but they'll have an awfully tough time keeping Palmer upright and avoiding mistakes.

Pittsburgh needs a good outing and a win tonight. The offense, especially the running game, has sputtered since Ben Roethlisberger returned from his suspension. It's as though the rest of the offense subconsciously relaxed. That needs to change if they're going to keep up with Baltimore and the change needs to start tonight. At minimum, the Steeler defense will force enough mistakes and Roethlisberger will play well enough for Pittsburgh to churn out a 31-17 win and move to 6-2.

Baltimore took care of its business yesterday, getting to 6-2 with a decisive 26-10 win over Miami at home. The Ravens did it in workmanlike fashion, with a sound running game led by Ray Rice, a mistake-free passing game led by Joe Flacco and intercepting Chad Henne three times. And the competitiveness of this division overall was shown by Cleveland, which jumped out to a fast 10-0 lead on New England then rolled to a 34-14 win. Running back Peyton Hillis is rapidly becoming a star, keying up a dominating ground attack, while Cleveland's D completely took away the Patriot running game. And rookie Colt McCoy did what the youthful Tom Brady did back when he first took over the quarterback spot--played high-percentage, mistake-free football and let the running game and defense do the work. Cleveland now has routs of New Orleans and New England on their resume, and while they're probably out of the playoff race at 3-5 in a tough division and conference, this is clearly becoming a team no one wants to play.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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