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Bengals' playoff fate rides on overcoming Steelers, Ravens

AP
Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton, left, tries to break free from Philadelphia Eagles' Brandon Graham in the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP)

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By The Associated Press
Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, 8:10 p.m.
 

CINCINNATI — The Bengals returned from their weekend off with a big bounce in their playoff chances.

If they win out, the Bengals would make the postseason, something that seemed highly unlikely at midseason when they slogged through a four-game losing streak.

There's also a chance they could win the AFC North, although they need help. The Bengals finish with games at Pittsburgh (7-7) and at home against Baltimore (9-5). The one next week could go a long way in deciding their playoff fate. If the Steelers win, the Bengals would have an identical record with the Steelers, but the Steelers would have the head-to-head tiebreaker because it would have swept the season series.

If they win the last two games, the Bengals would achieve a few noteworthy franchise breakthroughs. Cincinnati, after all, has gone to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons only once in a 44-year history. The 1981 team reached the Super Bowl and returned to the playoffs the next season.

The Bengals would also end their recent futility against the AFC North's top teams. The Bengals are 0-6 against the Steelers and Ravens over the last two seasons.

Cincinnati has lost a combined 10 straight games to the Steelers and Ravens, dating to the 2009 season when the Bengals won their last division title. Last season, they reached the playoffs as a wild card team.

“We really haven't done anything yet,” safety Chris Crocker said on Monday. “I'm not going to say this is a defining moment because we play these guys twice a year. But this is very big, especially at the end of the season.

“We're picking up momentum. These teams are postseason teams every year. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are always in the postseason, and they always go deep, so it's important for us to play well against them now in order to go in with some momentum if we do make the postseason.”

The Steelers beat Cincinnati, 24-17, on Oct. 21 at Paul Brown Stadium, a game that the Bengals let slip away. They jumped to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, but managed just 105 yards of offense after going 80 yards on 15 plays to score a touchdown on the opening possession.

Quarterback Andy Dalton is 0-6 in his career against the Steelers and Ravens.

He's completed less than 50 percent of his passes (40 of 82) against the Steelers and has never thrown for more than 170 yards in his three games.

Cincinnati has managed just 38 first downs against the Steelers with Dalton as the starting quarterback.

“It's us taking care of our business,” right tackle Andre Smith said. “They have a great defense, and they're going to play their game and wait for people to mess up. It's up to us to go out there and compete and execute every single play.”

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