How the Bengals can beat the Steelers to finally win a playoff game

CINCINNATI -- Playoffs, prime time and Pittsburgh. These are three things the Cincinnati Bengals simply haven't handled well in recent years.

But if they want to finally put an end to a playoff victory drought that has spanned 25 years, the Bengals must conquer all three Saturday night when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild-card-round playoff game under the lights. The 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff will be the Bengals' fifth in prime time this season. They won only one of the other four and dropped the other three by a combined 10 points.

Since Marvin Lewis became their head coach in 2003, the Bengals are 16-44 against the combination of playoffs, prime time and Pittsburgh (0-6 in the playoffs, 8-19 in prime-time games and 8-19 against Pittsburgh in the regular season). In seven nighttime games against the Steelers, the Bengals have just one win; a 2013 Monday night victory in Cincinnati.

How can the Bengals get prime-time win No. 2 against the Steelers? By having the following happen:

Get AJ McCarron an iron-clad game plan. It's still early in the week, but all indications make it appear McCarron will be starting once again at quarterback for Andy Dalton, who continues working his way back from a broken right thumb. If McCarron gets the anticipated first career playoff start, the Bengals must come up with a simple yet clearly successful game plan. The fact he has faced the Steelers once already this season, passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns in a three-quarter relief effort, should help. McCarron has had big-game success before, both in college and even last Monday night at Denver. Although he didn't beat the Broncos, McCarron still came out in an explosive start Cincinnati will need to replicate and sustain throughout Saturday's game. Unlike the last time versus Pittsburgh, he'll have time to fully digest the Steelers' defensive schemes all this week.

Get Sunday Jeremy Hill back. The version of the Bengals running back who pounded his way to a 96-yard, one-touchdown performance in Sunday's win over the Ravens would be good for Cincinnati to have this week. Not only can a good rushing attack balance the offense, but the passing game can feed off it, too. The more productive the Bengals' rushers are on the ground, the more effective play-action passes downfield (ones McCarron excels at throwing) can be. Hill showed flashes of his old, dominating rookie self in the latter half of the season, including Sunday. "As we keep going we just need him to keep going and playing better and keep being more decisive," Lewis said. A 16-yard effort in last month's game versus Pittsburgh showcased indecisive running by Hill.

Make forcing turnovers a top priority. When the season began, the Bengals' defense was adamant about making turnover creation its chief concern. After finishing 16th in turnover margin last season, the Bengals were third this season. Their 21 interceptions were the league's third most behind Carolina (24) and Kansas City (22). The week of McCarron's first career start, the Bengals' defensive playmakers were pressured to get turnovers to keep San Francisco's offense off the field and consistently give McCarron opportunities. Across the past three games, Cincinnati has forced seven turnovers. In that same span, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been picked off six times. He threw three interceptions in the teams' first meeting this season back in November.

Control the emotions. This one is pretty self-explanatory after December's chippy meeting, but the Bengals have to stay focused in spite of the Steelers possibly goading them into doing otherwise. About $150,000 in fines were levied after the last meeting. With a potential trip to the Super Bowl ultimately on the line, the Bengals know they can't let their passions get the best of them.