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It may not be a playoff game, but Saturday's game between the Steelers and Bengals will certainly feel like one. The winner of Saturday's game will stay alive in the AFC playoff race, while the loser can start making tee times for the offseason. 

Pittsburgh and Cincinnati enter Saturday's game in polar opposite directions. The Steelers have lost three straight games, including back-to-back losses at home to 2-10 teams. Conversely, the Bengals have won three straight games behind the inspired play of backup quarterback Jake Browning, who has done a masterful job filling in for injured starter Joe Burrow

Both squads will be without key players on Saturday. Steelers starting quarterback Kenny Pickett is out again as he continues to recover from ankle surgery. Bengals Pro Bowl wideout Ja'Marr Chase won't play after injuring his shoulder during last week's win over the Vikings. Mason Rudolph will start in place of Pickett, while Tee Higgins will step into Chase's role as the Bengals' top wideout. 

Based on the how the last three weeks have gone, you'd assume the Bengals will put Pittsburgh out of its misery while moving one game closer to a third straight playoff berth. But, as any NFL fan knows, as soon as you think you've figured this league out, the unexpected happens. That's why no one should be ruling the Steelers out of this one. 

Can the Steelers upset the Bengals while keeping their playoff hopes alive? To help find the answer, we've provided a full breakdown of Saturday's game below, including a prediction. 

How to watch Steelers-Bengals

  • When: Saturday, Dec. 23 | 4:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Acrisure Stadium -- Pittsburgh
  • TV: NBC | Live stream: fubo (click here
  • Follow: CBS Sports App   
  • Odds: CIN -2.5; O/U 38 (via Caesars Sportsbook)

When the Bengals have the ball 

Cincinnati's offense is vastly different from the one that scored just 10 points against Pittsburgh back in Week 12. The most notable differences are Browning's marked improvement, more involvement from rookie running back Chase Brown and Cincinnati's tight ends, and the return of Higgins from injury. 

Chase's absence will hurt, but the Bengals put 38 points on the board without him the last time they played in Pittsburgh. Higgins was a beast in that game with nine catches for 148 yards, and it shouldn't be a surprise if he puts up similar numbers Saturday against a depleted Pittsburgh secondary that will be without All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and fellow starting safety Damontae Kazee, who has been suspended for the regular season. Eight-time Pro Bowl safety Patrick Peterson and Elijah Riley (who hasn't started in a regular-season game since 2021) are slated to be Pittsburgh's starting safeties on Saturday. 

The Bengals' ability to spread the ball around helps lessen the blow of Chase's absence. They can also run the ball a little as well. Cincinnati has received solid play all year from Joe Mixon, who has seemed to benefit by Brown's added involvement. Mixon has just 10 carries against the Vikings, but he gained 47 yards that included a key touchdown run on fourth-and-goal. 

Brown had just two carries prior to the team's overtime win over the Jaguars that jump-started the team's current winning streak. Since the start of that game, the 163rd overall pick in this April's draft has run for 109 yards on 24 carries that included a 31-yard run against Jacksonville. He has also caught each of his nine targets, including a 54-yard catch-and-run that set up a touchdown against the Colts in Week 14. 

Chase Brown
CIN • RB • #30
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Speaking of pass-catching Bengals backs, former Cincinnati and current Denver running back Samaje Perine caught three touchdown passes in the Bengals' win in Pittsburgh last year. Expect the Bengals to try to use Mixon and Brown in a similar way on Saturday. 

Higgins and Mixon will likely get considerable touches on Saturday, but the Bengals' attack will likely be centered on spreading the wealth in an attempt to add further stress to Pittsburgh's defense. The Steelers will try to counter by pressuring Browning with T.J. Watt and Co. and trying to force turnovers. That was the recipe for success during Pittsburgh's last two wins over Cincinnati, and the Steelers will have do both again on Saturday if they are going to have a chance at pulling off the upset. 

When the Steelers have the ball 

Bad would be better than what Pittsburgh's offense has been for most of the season. The unit has been even worse since Pickett went down with an injury in Week 13. 

Pittsburgh's continued offensive regression since Pickett's injury compelled Mike Tomlin to bench Mitch Trubisky in favor of Rudolph for Saturday's must-win game. Rudolph is actually 2-0 in his career against the Bengals, but those wins came against a Cincinnati team that is vastly different from the one Rudolph and the Steelers broomed back in 2019. 

Mason Rudolph
TEN • QB • #11
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Cincinnati boasts one of the NFL's best front sevens, led by Trey Hendrickson (15 sacks) and linebackers Logan Wilson (114 tackles, three picks and two forced fumbles) and Germaine Pratt (111 tackles, two picks and two forced fumbles). Former Steeler Mike Hilton is the veteran presence for an extremely young Bengals secondary that has gotten better each week. 

Like the Steelers, the Bengals defense relies on pressure on turnovers, especially in the red zone. Cincinnati is content to give up yards as long as it doesn't allow the opposing offense to do too much once it either reaches or gets close to the red zone. This was the case during Pittsburgh's Week 12 win; the Steelers amassed over 400 yards of offense, but put just 16 points on the board. The Steelers won that game, but that point tally probably won't be enough this time around. 

The Steelers will likely try to employ the same attack they used a month ago, when they ran for 153 yards (99 of those courtesy of Najee Harris). The Steelers should be able to duplicate that success on Saturday, especially with Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader out for the season after getting injured last week. 

Like Pickett did against Cincinnati, expect Rudolph to target Pat Freiermuth, who caught nine passes for 120 yards. Pickett also completed deep passes to Diontae Johnson (39 yards) and George Pickens (43 yards) that set up scores. 

While he will mostly be asked not to lose the game, expect Rudolph to take some deep shots, especially if he gets a matchup he likes. This could either lead to game-breaking plays for Pittsburgh or back-breaking turnovers. 


Rest assured, the Steelers will play better than they did over the past three weeks. But the Bengals should be able to take Pittsburgh's best punch and still be able to come out on top. Pittsburgh will try to make life tough on Browning, and Rudolph will probably give the Steelers offense a spark, for a while at least. But the Bengals have the players and the fortitude to go into Pittsburgh and come out with a win. Pick: Bengals 16, Steelers 13