I firmly believe that the Steelers are going to beat the Bengals today. Sure, the Bengals beat the Steelers earlier in the year, but we all know that that game was a fluke. The Steelers were without Troy Polamalu and Rashard Mendenhall. They were in Cincinnati. They blew 10 points due to a missed field goal by Jeff Reed and a dropped touchdown pass by Limas Sweed. And their defense completely disappeared in the 4th quarter.
This time the game will be played in Pittsburgh. Troy Polamalu is back. Rashard Mendenhall is running wild. Limas Sweed is on the bench (where he belongs). Jeff Reed has recaptured his mojo. And the Steelers defense is once again playing like……the Steelers defense.
So when the Steelers beat the Bengals this afternoon, all will be well in Steelerland, right? Well, not so fast.
Even with a win today, the Steelers will still have their work cut out for them. The Bengals have already swept their season series with the Baltimore Ravens. Meanwhile, the Steelers have yet to face the Ravens. Beating them once is always tough. Beating them twice is extremely difficult.
The Bengals are 4-0 within the AFC North. The Steelers are 1-1. That’s a significant advantage for the Bengals. And if the Bengals somehow win today, the advantage probably becomes insurmountable.
If we look at their remaining schedules, the Bengals seem to have a fairly easy path for the rest of the season. The Bengals next three games are against the Oakland Raiders, the Cleveland Browns, and the Detroit Lions. I’d say those are probably 3 easy wins for the Bengals. The Bengals also have games remaining against the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Jets. Those are also probably wins for the Bengals. The only two challenging opponents remaining on the Bengals’ schedule are the Minnesota Vikings and the San Diego Chargers. Both games are on the road, so I’m going to assume that the Bengals will lose one, but not both games. That would mean that the Bengals would end the season with a 12-4.
Meanwhile, the Steelers still have two games remaining against the Ravens. The Ravens are 4-4 right now, but we all know that neither team’s record matters when these two teams face one another. The Ravens are particularly difficult to beat in Baltimore. So there is a possibility that the Steelers might lose one of the two games against the Ravens. That would dig the Steelers an even bigger hole in their division tie breaker.
Besides the Ravens, the Steelers have a fairly easy path for the rest of the season. They have games remaining against perennial losers like the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders, and the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers also have to face a pretty good Green Bay Packers team, and an enigmatic Miami Dolphins team.
I don’t foresee the Steelers losing to the any of these teams. But I didn’t foresee them losing to the Bengals or Bears either. If the Steelers lose one of their games to the Ravens, and then drop a game to one of their remaining opponents (e.g. the Green Bay Packers), they will probably end the season in a tie with the Bengals. That will leave the Steelers in an unfavorable position with the tie-breakers. The Bengals will probably have a better record in the division. They will probably also have a better record against common opponents (that Chicago Bears loss comes back to haunt us).
The bottom line is that if the Steelers lose today, they will have placed themselves in a very difficult predicament. Catching the Bengals will be almost impossible.
The obvious solution to this problem is for the Steelers to win. They need to beat the Bengals today, and then keep on winning. They have to sweep their series against the Ravens (not an easy task). They also need to make sure they don’t suffer any more unexpected losses (e.g. Chiefs, Browns, or Raiders). Then they have to take care of business against the two respectable non-division opponents remaining on their schedule (Packers & Dolphins).
I guess it all goes back to something that we all learned on the playground in kindergarten; winning is good, and losing is bad. If the Steelers keep winning, things will be good for them. If they suffer another loss or two, things will be bad.
The team’s fate is completely in their own hands. They know what they have to do. Beat the Bengals. Beat the Ravens (twice). Beat the doormats (Raiders, Browns, and Chiefs). Beat the Packers. Beat the Dolphins. It’s as simple as that.
To quote a once great man who is now obviously senile; “Just win, baby!”
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