In recent history, the Steelers vs. Bengals game has been rather uneventful. The Bengals played like the Bungles, while the Steelers were perpetually in contention.
Sure, there was that one year that the Bengals actually won the AFC North, but the very next year they went right back to being the Bungles.
But that’s not the case this year. The Bengals are tied for 1st place in the AFC North, and are on their first 5-game winning streak in over 20 years. Believe it or not, the Bengals are actually good. Very good.
For many Steelers fans, this Bengals team is going to look completely unfamiliar. The names that most fans think of when you say “Bengals” are no longer a part of the team. Carson Palmer? Gone! Chad Ochocinco? Gone! Terrell Owens? Gone!
Replacing those familiar names are talented young players like QB Andy Dalton, WR A.J. Green, WR Jerome Simpson, and TE Jermaine Gresham.
While the young offensive players have gotten the most publicity for the resurgent Bengals, it’s really the defense that has carried the team. The Bengals have the #4 defense in the NFL. The Steelers defense is #3, and the Ravens defense is #2. That’s right, 3 of the top 4 defenses in the NFL are in the AFC North. Do you think the Bengal may have learned a thing or two from watching the Steelers and Ravens dominate the division with defense? In fact, the Bengals’ defense is ranked #2 in the NFL against the run. That’s better than either the Steelers (#6) or Ravens (#3) are ranked against the run.
Fortunately, Andy Dalton has never seen the Steelers’ defense before. Steelers’ Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau is a master at confusing young quarterbacks. I’m sure he’ll have some blitz packages lined up that will have Dalton scratching his head.
James Harrison looked great last week in his return to action. I’m sure he’s going to be anxious to meet Mr. Dalton, and to say “Hello” as only James Harrison can.
Having already lost both of their games to the Baltimore Ravens, making the playoffs is now going to be a bit more difficult. It’s important that the Steelers defeat the Bengals. They need to maintain the advantage in the tie-breakers for playoff positioning.
The AFC North looks like it’s going to be a tougher battle than it’s been in a long time. In fact, many experts are saying that the AFC North is now the toughest division in the NFL. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that the Steelers need to beat the Bengals on Sunday.
The road to the playoffs starts on Sunday, and the Bengals are an obstacle that needs to be overcome.