It's the most wonderful time of the year.
December football. The time of year when teams take their game to the next level because the playoffs are often on the line. Count the Steelers as a team doing just that.
The Steelers have won their last eight games played during the month of December, dating back to the 2013 season. And ironically three of those wins came against the Cincinnati Bengals.
They are looking to add to that this week when they play the AFC North leading Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
"You have to wire in this time of year," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "You always need to be focused and ready to go. This time of year you are always trying to make a playoff run, trying to play your best football, so I guess that is why we try to do our best now."
Since 2010 the Steelers are tied for third in the NFL with the best record over the last four games of the season at 14-6, and are tied for second over the final month of the season (which includes early January regular season games) at 18-6. It's that stretch run mindset that keeps the juices flowing and the blood pumping.
"It's crunch time," said Roethlisberger. "After the bye week we said this is the stretch where we have to turn it on and play our best football."
Nothing like facing crunch time against a divisional opponent when you know a lot is on the line. The Steelers lost to the Bengals earlier this year at Heinz Field, a 16-10 loss in a game where Le'Veon Bell was lost for the season with a knee injury. Emotions will be running high.
"It's going to be hard to have much more than a divisional opponent at their place who is arguably the best team in football," said Roethlisberger. "I've got to believe it's already going to be about as competitive as you can get."
More from Ben:
On what he needs to do better against Cincinnati this time:
"Score points, not turn it over and play better football."
The best photos of QB Ben Roethlisberger from the 2015 season.
On if he expects them to defend the same way they did last time:**
"I would expect that, but we'll be ready for all different kinds of looks, because they're a really good defense."
On how good his group of wide receivers are:
"Very good. They're doing some amazing things and getting better every week."
On his receivers being diverse and if that leads to their success:
"I think that's a big part of it. I think each guy brings a little something different to the table, but to me they all work really hard, and I think that's awesome."
On the success he has had playing in Cincinnati:
"Well, it's close to Miami, Ohio, not very far from home. To me, it's more about their fans. They're always into it. This is one of the best teams in football, a great place to play and a great environment. We expect it to be loud and rowdy and crazy. As a competitor, you enjoy that opportunity, just like going to Seattle. Going down there to play Cincinnati, a divisional opponent, just always adds a little extra something to it."