Much was lost when the Steelers were unable to hold a late fourth quarter lead to the visiting Cincinnati Bengals back in Week 8. The 16-10 setback essentially ended any realistic hopes of repeating as AFC North champions and for the second season in a row, the Steelers would lose All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell to a season ending knee injury.
The injury to Bell made the loss even more difficult to swallow, but it was the perceived celebration by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the immediate wake of Bell’s injury that had Steelers fans and players alike angry and looking forward to a rematch.
The Steelers get their shot at payback this Sunday in the Queen City. Let’s preview and make a prediction.
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Oh.
Spread: Bengals (-2.5)
Series History: Steelers lead 56-35
Last meeting: 11/1/15–Bengals 16 Steelers 10
Three keys to Steelers victory:
Roethlisberger needs to shine — Ben Roethlisberger loves playing in his native Ohio. Need the data? Roethlisberger is an astounding 18-2 all-time in the Buckeye state, which includes a 10-2 record in Cincinnati.
If the Steelers are going to get a win Sunday, Roethlisberger needs to be at his best and that was far from the case in their first contest. Roethlisberger threw three picks including two in the fourth quarter that contributed mightily to the loss. It’s rare for Ben to play as badly as he did in Week 8, don’t expect a repeat, especially with the Bengals secondary banged up and missing cornerback Adam “Pac-Man” Jones.
Repeat Week 8 success on defense — Don’t blame the defense for the Week 8 loss, they were exceptional throughout, intercepting Andy Dalton twice while holding the tandem of Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard to 72 combined rushing yards. The defense will need to find a way to limit the Bengals balanced offense that ranks in the top 10 in both scoring and total offense and have two of the better receiving options in the league in Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green.
A key will be stopping Hill and Bernard and force Dalton to make plays down the stretch. Yes, he led the Bengals on a winning fourth-quarter drive last time, but Dalton still has a lot to prove in big spots.
Keep emotions in check — The Burfict “celebration” left a bad taste in the Steelers mouth and rightfully so. However, the team must rein in their emotions and not get lured into stupid penalties that could have a major impact on the outcome. The Steelers franchise has played these type of games countless times and understand the gravity of the outcome. Focus on getting a huge road win that will go far in terms of grabbing a Wild Card spot.
Three keys to Bengals victory:
Don’t let the Steelers beat you through the air — This will be easier said than done. The Steelers offense is on fire, averaging 36 points and 529 yards per game over their last four contests. Much of that damage has come thanks to a passing offense that is firing on all cylinders and is likely to add Heath Miller back into the fold this weekend.
Who do you try to stop? Antonio Brown? Martavis Bryant? Then there’s the recent emergence of Markus Wheaton that has given Roethlisberger another weapon to utilize. Plus, the Bengals secondary is banged up with Jones doubtful and cornerback Leon Hall and safety George Ilowka nursing injuries.
Create turnovers — The Bengals defense ranks in the top five in turnover margin and interceptions — that was the biggest factor in their win against the Steelers back in November. In a game where the Steelers will likely rack up yardage on offense, the Bengals have to find ways to force turnovers if they expect to win.
Big returns from Tate — The special teams have been anything but special for the Steelers and return specialist Brandon Tate could be an X-factor for the Bengals. The Steelers have been lousy in return coverage much of the season and Tate is more than capable of providing a spark in both kickoff and punt returns. If Tate comes through it could make all the difference.
There’s a lot on the line Sunday. The Bengals, for all intents and purposes, have locked up the division, but have to continue winning if they want to earn a first-round bye. The Steelers need this one even more, as a loss would put the team on life support in the AFC playoff race.
I love the Steelers here. Two Roethlisberger-less losses to the Ravens and Chiefs are all that keep this game from having division title and first-round bye implications. Despite of all of the negativity and unwillingness of many to give the Steelers (and Mike Tomlin) a little more leeway considering all the injuries, this team is still capable of challenging for a Super Bowl birth. It starts Sunday and there will be no quarter for the Bengals. Steelers 38, Bengals 21