The bad blood between the 12-4 Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are 10-6, will continue on during NFL wildcard weekend. Two long-time AFC North rivals will try to eliminate each other in the wide open AFC playoff picture. Although no one saw this wildcard matchup coming just two weeks ago, the Bengals and Steelers game is watch-worthy for several reasons. Put the AFC North rivalry to the side, these two teams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Bengals versus Steelers, the chapter comes with much higher stakes on the line.
The last time we saw the Bengals play the Steelers was in Week 13. They were well on their way to breaking a few fists on each other’s helmets during the pregame warm ups. According to AZ Central, it was Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict who instigated a fracas during the pregame. Burfict walked up to the Steelers’ Vince Williams and began taunting him. Eventually, Burfict would make contact with Williams and the pushing and shoving took place. It went from a simple shoving match, to a brouhaha with players from both teams fighting at midfield. That fight could have cost the Bengals and Steelers some players of consequence. It became a statement game, but it was Pittsburgh who were making a statement about their desires to be a contending team.
The Steelers’ 33-20 defeat of Bengals was an eye-catching experience. Pittsburgh was able to move the football against a talented Bengals’ defense. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tailback DeAngelo Williams, receiver Antonio Brown, and kicker Chris Boswell all had big games. It was an untimely injury to Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton that prevented them from keeping up the scoring pace.
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton only managed to stay in the game to complete a couple of passes, before he broke the thumb on his throwing hand. The broken thumb has kept him out for four weeks thus far. The cast Dalton wore is now off of his hand, but ESPN is reporting that he has been ruled out for the wildcard game against the Steelers.
— NFL (@NFL) January 9, 2016
Second-year QB AJ McCarron took over for Dalton in the Pittsburgh game, but he struggled. In Weeks 14-16, McCarron performed well. Can he step up and help Cincinnati get a win?
McCarron may have some opportunities to take advantage of a Steelers’ secondary that was ranked 30th in passing yards allowed. It could turn into a field day for receiver AJ Green and Tyler Eifert. The Bengals chances will come down to pass protection. Pittsburgh is the third-best team in the NFL when it comes to getting to the QB.
Defensively the Bengals will get a few key stops. Pittsburgh is an offensive juggernaut, so Cincinnati will have to score in order to keep up with them.
They also take advantage of the occasional turnover that the Steelers are known to have. Opportunities will be there for the Bengals to pull off an upset. According to SB Nation, the Bengals are a 2.5 home underdog. Keep in mind that the home team usually gets three points just for hosting the game. If the wildcard game was in Pittsburgh, then the Steelers would be 5.5 point favorites.
— Inquisitr Sports (@InquisitrSports) January 9, 2016
Credit the Steelers’ offense for that. The offense will bring their A-game. It is the defense that must play at their best. Pittsburgh has a major injury on their hands with DeAngelo Williams out with an ankle injury. In the previous game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Williams had 78 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh not having him available puts the onus on the third-string back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Expect the Steelers to try and air it out.
When the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers play each other for the third time, the stakes will be bigger than before. The winner could have a road paved directly to the Super Bowl. Cool heads will have to prevail in this heated AFC North rivalry.
[Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images Sport]