Agenda for the Bengals

There's a carrot dangling in Cincinnati.

Win there on Monday night and the Steelers are AFC North Division champions no matter what Cleveland does on Sunday night against the New York Football Giants.

The division title would also be clinched in the event both the Steelers and Browns tie.

The Steelers' first trip to the postseason since 2016 was finalized last Sunday when Kansas City won at Miami.

"Yeah, we made the playoffs but the job's not done yet," Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster maintained. "We still have to play our game against 'Cincy' to be able to put on the hat and shirts to say that we own the AFC North."

Added defensive coordinator Keith Butler: "If we win this game, then obviously we're gonna be winners of the division. And that's the biggest thing for us right now, is trying to win this football game.

"Everybody that's gonna be in it is gonna be in it to win it, for sure."

That includes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

But beyond the immediacy of the final result and the reward it might provide, Roethlisberger is eyeing the Bengals game as the first in a regular season-concluding, three-game stretch during which the Steelers can hone their game for the playoffs.

They'll close out the regular season by hosting Indianapolis on Dec. 27 and visiting Cleveland on Jan. 3 after the rematch with Cincinnati.

Coming out of a three-games-in-12-days succession in which the Steelers went 1-2, their game is in need of honing.

"We're in the postseason," Roethlisberger emphasized. "We have three weeks now to get it going, to turn it around, to give ourselves the best chance to reach our ultimate goal, which is winning a Super Bowl. If we were starting the postseason tomorrow, maybe there would be a little bit more panic on our part, like, 'We've gotta get something figured out right now.'

"We need to get it figured out now, but the good thing is we know we have games after these next three. And the teams that we're playing are two divisional opponents and the third one is in the playoffs, too, most likely. So what a great test for us to kinda get some pre-postseason work in by playing these last three games."

The Steelers come in at 11-2 but riding a two-game losing streak.

The Bengals are 2-10-1 and have lost a season-high five consecutive games.

Cincinnati was an intriguing team upon its visit to Heinz Field on Nov. 15, in large part due to the presence of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in last April's draft.

The Steelers won that initial meeting, 36-10.

Burrow was lost for the season to a knee injury the following Sunday at Washington.

The Bengals' Reserve/Injured list includes defensive tackle Geno Atkins, running back Joe Mixon, wide receiver Auden Tate, tight end C.J. Uzomah, offensive tackle Jonah Williams and cornerback Trae Waynes, among others, along with Burrow. And this week they will be without quarterback Brandon Allen,ruled out of the game with a knee injury and Ryan FInley will start. Finley started against the Steelers last year in Week 12, a 16-10 Steelers win.

Cincinnati's 34 offensive possessions without Burrow have resulted in 16 punts (including nine following three-and-outs), nine turnovers, three turnovers on downs, three touchdowns, one field goal, one missed field goal and one occasion on which the clock ran out.

Still, Cincinnati is not a team defensive tackle Cam Heyward thinks the Steelers can afford to look past.

And the playoffs are too far down the road to be an immediate concern.

"We gotta pump the breaks on the playoffs, man," Heyward insisted. "We gotta take care of our business one game at a time. Too much we've talked about 'we need to do this to go to the playoffs, we need to do that.' Man, we just need to win a game.

'We'll focus on this game, focus on the next one after that. We gotta quit getting into this rhythm of 'it's setting up this,' or 'it's setting up that.' We just gotta get back to playing our football, understand what we need to do and do it at 110 percent."