4:30 PM ET, January 8, 2006
Pittsburgh (11-5) at Cincinnati (11-5) Sunday 4:30 pm EST AFC wild card
CINCINNATI (Ticker) -- The rubber match between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers will be staged in the wild-card round on Sunday.
The Bengals are making their first playoff appearance in 15 years. But this is familiar territory for the Steelers, who are in the postseason for the 10th time in 14 years under coach Bill Cowher.
"It's 'The Brawl For It All.' It's 'The Rumble In the Jungle.' It's 'The Thrilla in Manila,'" Bengals running back Rudi Johnson said.
After going 8-8 in Marvin Lewis' first two seasons as coach, the Bengals are now a force to be reckoned with thanks to a young nucleus and an explosive offense led by Carson Palmer - the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner - wide receiver Chad Johnson and an opportunistic defense.
The Steelers have been a force to be reckoned with since Cowher took the job in 1992. He has guided the Steelers to eight division titles, a Super Bowl and four other championship games.
But the AFC North title went to the Bengals this season, their first division crown since they captured the AFC Central in 1990. They last hosted a playoff game on January 6, 1991, posting a 41-14 victory over the Houston Oilers in a wild-card game.
"There will be a lot of excitement in that stadium, their first playoff game in a long time," Cowher said. "It's a big, big challenge for us. We certainly have to play better than the last time we played them. It's going to be a big challenge for us."
Cincinnati took control of the division with a 38-31 victory at Pittsburgh on December 4.
Palmer completed 22-of-38 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns, Johnson ran for 88 yards and two TDs and the Bengals forced four turnovers, including intercepting Ben Roethlisberger three times.
"It gave us confidence. They were supposed to be the Super Bowl champs," Palmer said. "Everybody was thinking it was going to be their year. We went toe-to-toe with supposedly one of the best teams in the league. We proved to us and everyone around us that we can play any team on any given day if we just eliminate the turnovers and penalties, and mistakes. That our players are good enough, that our schemes are good enough, that we can beat anybody on any given day."
Rather than relying on their running game, the Steelers engaged in a shootout with the Bengals. An Ohio native, Roethlisberger completed 29-of-41 passes for a career-high 386 yards and three TDs but also made the critical mistakes.
The Steelers will be looking for a replay of a 27-13 victory here on October 23.
Willie Parker rushed for 105 of 131 yards in the second half, including a 37-yard touchdown run. Led by Parker and Jerome Bettis, who rushed for 56 yards, the Steelers amassed 221 yards on the ground on 47 attempts.
Roethlisberger went an efficient 9-of-14 for 93 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
"We've played in that hostile environment before," Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter said. "And we're looking forward to it. We put ourselves in a situation to where we're alive, we're in the playoffs now. We're just looking forward to going down there and doing the best that we can do.
"We kind of know what to expect from them. They think they know what to expect from us. It's going to be a good game."
Roethlisberger will have to continue to be wary of the Bengals' ball-hawking secondary. Cincinnati led the league with 31 interceptions, including 10 by cornerback Deltha O'Neal that tied Ty Law of the New York Jets for the most in the NFL. Pittsburgh has won six of the last seven meetings between the teams here.
Matchup to watch: Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who had 12 catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings against the Steelers this season, against left cornerback Ike Taylor.
Series: The Steelers lead, 42-29.
Next week: Pittsburgh visits Indianapolis, January 15 OR Cincinnati visits Denver, January 14
More from ESPN.com
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The Pittsburgh Steelers added size and speed at wide receiver on Wednesday when they signed Darrius Heyward-Bey to a one-year contract.
Familiar foes set for Round 3
These teams know each other well, having split two games during the regular season. The Steelers go in confident and riding a late-season surge, while Cincinnati is coming off two losses in a row. Sunday's trouncing in Kansas City is some cause for concern, even though the Bengals rested several players.
This is a game of contrasting styles. Pittsburgh is a blue-collar, physical team and will try to control the clock with the running game and intimidate on defense. Cincinnati uses a high-flying offense to force opponents into an up-tempo style of play and is a tough group to match up against.
Defensively, the Bengals are not dominating, but they are opportunistic and create a lot of turnovers. The team that imposes its will and style of play will win. There aren't any secrets between these bitter divisional rivals.
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|Avg Points Allowed||17.0||31.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||PIT|
|Rush Yds Allowed||PIT|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Pittsburgh leads 8-3|
|Dec 4, 2005||PIT 31, CIN 38|
|Oct 23, 2005||PIT 27, @CIN 13|
|Nov 21, 2004||PIT 19, @CIN 14|
|Oct 3, 2004||PIT 28, CIN 17|
|Nov 30, 2003||PIT 20, CIN 24|
|Sep 21, 2003||PIT 17, @CIN 10|
|Nov 24, 2002||PIT 29, CIN 21|
|Oct 13, 2002||PIT 34, @CIN 7|
|Dec 30, 2001||PIT 23, @CIN 26|
|Oct 7, 2001||PIT 16, CIN 7|