Joe Burrow has quite a bit on the line as he heads to Pittsburgh for Sunday's Week 3 showdown against the AFC North division rival Steelers. Cincinnati's second-year quarterback is still in search of his first win against a divisional opponent. Along with crossing off that milestone, Burrow is hoping to help the Bengals defeat Pittsburgh in consecutive games for only the third time this century.
Like the rest of the AFC North, the Steelers and Bengals enter Sunday's game with 1-1 records. Both teams had impressive wins in Week 1 that were followed by disappointing losses in Week 2. The Steelers lost their home opener after allowing Derek Carr to throw for 382 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals fell in Chicago despite two late touchdown passes from Burrow. Both teams are dealing with significant injuries that include Ben Roethlisberger's pectoral injury sustained in last week's loss to Las Vegas. Roethlisberger is expected to play through pain against a Bengals team that is tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks through two games.
We'll break down Sunday's showdown as well as make our final score predictions in a game between two bitter division rivals. But first, here's how you can follow the action in real time.
All NFL odds are via Caesars Sportsbook.
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Pittsburgh struggled on both sides of the ball against Las Vegas. Carr had a field day against a Steelers defense that played without linebacker Devin Bush and cornerback Joe Haden. The unit also lost outside linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive lineman Tyson Alualu during the game. Alualu was lost for the season after fracturing his ankle. Offensively, the Steelers are last in the league in rushing, the same spot they occupied in 2020. Pittsburgh's revamped offensive line has struggled to protect Roethlisberger, who still managed to throw for 295 yards last week despite sustaining his injury.
Cincinnati has received a strong start from its defense. The unit, led by safety Jessie Bates III, linebacker Logan Wilson and defensive linemen B.J. Hill and Trey Hendrickson, is currently 10th in the NFL in scoring, ninth in passing, 11th in rushing and 12th in third-down efficiency. Former Steeler Mike Hilton has had a quick impact on the Bengals' defense. Cincinnati's defensive line should have an advantage against a mostly young Pittsburgh offensive line. Conversely, the Steelers' pass rush also has an advantage against a Bengals offensive line that has allowed nine sacks of Burrow through two games. The team that better protects their quarterback will likely be the team that leaves Sunday's game with a victory.
Both teams also possess talented players at the skill positions. The Bengals employ a young, dynamic receiving trio in Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and rookie Ja'Marr Chase that could very well give the Steelers' banged-up secondary fits. The Steelers counter with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. Higgins is currently dealing with a shoulder injury, while Johnson is working his way back from a knee injury. Mike Thomas and Auden Tate (who has yet to catch a pass this season) would get more snaps if Higgins can't play. James Washington, Pittsburgh's leading receiver in 2019, would fill in for Johnson if he is unable to suit up on Sunday. Johnson's absence would also likely lead to more targets for rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, who caught all four of his targets against Las Vegas.
Najee Harris vs. Joe Mixon: Along with protecting their quarterback, the team that has more success on the ground will likely be the team that leaves Heinz Field with a 2-1 record. In a league that is trending more to backfields by committee, Harris and Mixon handle most of their team's workload. Harris showed more signs of promise in Week 2, as he caught his first career touchdown while improving his yards-per-carry average. Harris will have to have an even bigger impact on Sunday while taking some of the pressure off of Roethlisberger and the passing game. While the Raiders showed that you can beat the Steelers without much threat of a running game, an effective Mixon would certainly help increase Burrow's odds at having success while reducing their third-and-long situations.
Make no mistake about it, the Steelers are looking to make a statement following last Sunday's loss. While injured, Pittsburgh's defense should still be able to put plenty of pressure on Burrow while containing Mixon and the rest of Cincinnati's skill players. And after receiving plenty of criticism this week, look for Pittsburgh's offense (specifically its offensive line) to put together its best performance of the young season. This could also be the breakout game for Harris, who should get more carries than the 10 he received against the Raiders.
Score: Steelers 23, Bengals 17
Check out CBSSports.com for even more predictions on this game and the rest of Week 3.