Only 288 miles separate Cincinnati from Pittsburgh. Yet, if you’ve witnessed the last few games between the Bengals and Steelers you would swear the teams are bickering neighbors. Fighting over what? Whose dog crapped in whose yard?
Actually, they’re fighting over turf in the AFC North. Contests between these division rivals evolved from meaningful games into playoff-like regular season games. Intense. Full of vicious hits. Plenty of trash talk.
In 2014 the Steelers defeated the Bengals twice en route to an AFC North title. In what was the final regular season game, the Steelers defeated the Bengals 27-17. While Pittsburgh won the game, former Bengals safety Reggie Nelson inflicted a major loss with a low hit to Pittsburgh’s star running back Le’Veon Bell. He was forced to miss the playoff game against the Ravens in the Wild Card round, and the Steelers ended up losing.
2015 appeared to be the Bengals’ year for a deep playoff run. Cincinnati defeated Pittsburgh in Week 8 to improve to an impressive 7-0 record. However, the Steelers were not at full strength without question. Week 8 was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s first game back after missing four straight, and the Steelers lost Bell in the second quarter of that game after his knee twisted beneath him. He would miss the rest of the season.
The teams met again in Week 14. This time, the intensity began in pregame warmups when several players engaged in some pushing and shoving, and trash talking. Even without Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers were the more dominant team as they cruised to a 33-20 victory. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton broke his thumb in the first quarter while attempting a tackle after throwing an interception. Cincinnati also lost star tight end Tyler Eifert to a concussion in the first half. This couldn’t be the end, right?
Right. As fate would have it, the Steelers and Bengals met for the third time in 2015 in the AFC Wild Card Round of the playoffs. In the final minutes of the game, the Steelers stumbled into field goal range thanks to consecutive penalties called on Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones. Burfict lowered lowered his shoulder and drilled a defenseless Antonio Brown in the helmet. Jones was called for taunting as he engaged in trash talk with Steelers’ coach Joey Porter on the field while trainers checked on Brown. AB could hardly standup straight after the hit, but the Steelers persevered. With 14 seconds remaining on the clock, Chris Boswell put the final nail in the coffin with a 35-yard field goal .
Bad blood spilled into the offseason as the Steelers players accused several Bengals players of targeting Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Ben Roethlisberger over the past several games.
They’ll meet for the first time since the playoffs on Sunday at 1:00pm EST live on CBS.
Both teams are strong picks to make the playoffs in 2016, but they’ll have to get past each other for the AFC North crown. Once again, the Steelers will be without Le’Veon Bell as he serves his three-game suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Vontaze Burfict is serving a three-game suspension for “repeated violations of safety-related playing rules.” Tyler Eifert will also miss the game with an ankle injury.
AJ Green and Antonio Brown are coming off massive Week 1 performances. Green caught 12 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown, while Brown snagged eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. DeAngelo Williams moved like a tank through a fickle Redskin defense, racking up 143 yards and two touchdown on 26 carries. Dalton and Big Ben also passed for over 300 yards apiece.
I don’t know about you, but this is the early game I’ll be following. Not just to watch the talented playmakers on both sides of the ball, but to witness the energy, intensity, and jaw-jacking that is bound to occur between bloodthirsty neighbors fighting over turf.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com