The Pittsburgh Steelers are getting set to host the Cincinnati Bengals for their final home game of the 2023 season, and the stakes couldn't be higher for Mike Tomlin and company. After losing three straight games in embarrassing fashion, Tomlin desperately needs a win to flip the narrative in Pittsburgh, as his job in 2024 suddenly isn't looking as safe as it once did.
With a loss in Week 16, the Steelers will effectively be eliminated from playoff contention -- marking the seventh consecutive season Pittsburgh has failed to muster up so much as a single postseason win. Saving their season starts with a clean sweep over their division rivals this Saturday.
Ahead of the Steelers vs. Bengals game this week, I had the privilege of sitting down with FanSided's Stripe Hype editor Leigh Oleszczak. Leigh fielded questions and shared insight on Jake Browning, the state of the Cincinnati Bengals, and predictions as they face the Steelers this week.
Steelers vs. Bengals Q&A: What you need to know about Cincy for Week 16
1. Jake Browning has been one of the biggest topics in the NFL after winning three straight games and going 3-1 as a starter since filling in for Joe Burrow. How good is the Bengals' backup quarterback, and is Joe Burrow lite' a fair way to describe his play style?
Ha, Joe Burrow Lite, that's funny, I haven't heard that. Honestly, Browning does play similarly to Burrow in that he doesn't appear to be fazed by the big moments. This past weekend, he got absolutely drilled by a pass rusher but he stood there, let the ball rip, and completed a big pass. It definitely felt Burrow-esque.
2. Jake Browning's first NFL start came against the Steelers back in Week 11 -- a game where the Bengals only mustered up 10 points in a loss. How has Browning grown since then and what are his best traits?
The problem with Browning in that first start wasn't totally on him. Zac Taylor and the offensive coaching staff continued to call a game like he was Joe Burrow, which we all know he's not. Since then, Taylor and the coaches have done a nice job tailoring the game more to Browning. They're running the ball more and that helps him get the confidence to air it out more. His best traits are kind of what I alluded to earlier in that he's not scared to go out there and take a shot if it means completing a big pass.
3. Who is one player not getting enough attention on the Bengals right now that the Steelers should look out for?
The backup running back Chase Brown should be discussed more. He didn't have a great game this past week, but against the Colts in Week 14, he had over 100 scrimmage yards, including 80 yards receiving.
4. What is the biggest strength and weakness of this current Bengals roster?
The biggest strength is the Bengals' receiver room. Even with Ja'Marr Chase potentially missing this game, the Bengals will still have Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Trenton Irwin to throw to. That's not a bad array of weapons even with your best receiver missing.
The biggest weakness has to be the run defense. This is not the same unit that shut down opposing run games last year. They've been downright awful against the run, sitting in the bottom five of the league in rushing yards allowed per game with an average of 128.3, per Team Rankings. If the Steelers can run the ball well, they'll have success against Cincinnati.
5. Cincinnati has outperformed expectations as of late. Do you think they can go anywhere if they make it into the playoffs?
This question is a tough one to answer because, on the one hand, this has been a weird season where a lot of teams have backup quarterbacks running the show and are in the thick of things. On the other hand, the Bengals defense is not the same strength that its been in past years. I mentioned how bad the run defense is but they also lead the league in explosive plays and just don't have that same dog in them that they have during their past two AFC title runs. I'd love to say that the Bengals could be in contention for a deep playoff run but their defense makes that tough for me to commit to.
6. In one sentence, predict how the Steelers vs. Bengals game will go in Week 16.
The Bengals might get off to a slow start but they'll find their footing in the second half and win handily.
7. What is your score prediction for Steelers vs. Bengals this Saturday?
Even though the Bengals are due for a loss and the Steelers are due for a win, I can't pick that to happen this week. Give me a 24-14 Bengals victory.