It’s officially less than one week until the NFL resumes, and fans everywhere are trying to see how their team should stack up. This should come as no surprise to anyone who watched the 2021 NFL season, but the Steelers are underdogs. When Pittsburgh travels to Paycor Stadium on Sunday, September 11, they will see a familiar foe; their AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. Pittsburgh has done historically well against the Bengals, but the returning AFC champions want nothing more than to beat Tomlin and company to begin their season.
DraftKings recently opened their book for the Steelers-Bengals battle. Even though the Steelers have stars like TJ Watt, Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Diontae Johnson, there is little room for error against the Bengals. Early betting odds has Cincinnati at -6.5. The over/under point total for the game is set at 44.5. In layman’s terms, Cincinnati bettors would receive a payout with a Cincinnati victory by more than 7 points. A Cincinnati victory by 6 or less points, a tie, or a Pittsburgh victory would result in a payout for Pittsburgh bettors. These odds show that the Bengals could repeat recent history.
The History Between Teams
This is a familiar rivalry for both teams. In 1970, the AFL and the NFL merged to create the modern NFL. After this merger, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have been in the same division every year, meaning they play each other at least twice. These games add up; the Steelers and Bengals have matched up 105 times over the years. The Steelers claimed victory 67 times while the Bengals triumphed 38. Most of these have been regular-season matchups, but they were matched up in the postseason twice; Pittsburgh successfully won both of these games.
This rivalry is a particularly bitter one because both teams vocally despise the other. Notable moments such as Ryan Shazier’s injury, the Vontaze Burfict hit on Antonio Brown in the playoffs (yes, THAT one), JuJu Smith-Schuster’s block on Burfict (remember it endeared him to Steelers fans? You know, back before TikTok), and Vonn Bell rocking Smith -Schuster are common with these two teams. One of the constants, up until recently, was the one they called Big Ben. Over the last three meetings, though, the Bengals are undefeated.
The Bengals Are Scary
A team in their prime. Cincinnati’s revamped offensive line includes free agents such as Alex Cappa and Ted Karras. Quarterback Joe Burrow was the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year. Running back Joe Mixon had the third-most rushing yards in the NFL last year. They have the deepest wide receiver room possibly in the league with 2021’s Rookie of the Year Ja’maar Chase headlining the group. Now that’s a high-octane attack.
The Bengals’ defense isn’t full of slouches, either. DL Trey Hendrickson finished fifth in the NFL in sacks last year with 17.5. He and his teammate Sam Hubbard were considered a top-three pass-rushing duo last season. There is a legitimate argument for Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III being a top-five safety duo as well. Steelers fans also remember Bengals’ nickel corner Mike Hilton from his days in Pittsburgh.
Special teams ace Evan McPherson had one of the best rookie years from a placekicker in 2021. Even head coach Zac Taylor is excellent, having a couple votes for Coach of the Year last year. The Bengals are loaded with talent on offense, defense, and special teams with a solid, young coach. Who’s to say they won’t return to the Super Bowl again next year? Not if their rivals have anything to say about it…
The Steelers Are Underdogs
An interesting, unproven team with lots of potential. Running back Najee Harris gained the fourth-most yards on the ground and broke the most tackles in the NFL as a rookie. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson, a Pro Bowl selection last season, will look to compliment fellow skilled receivers Chase Claypool and George Pickens. Pat Freiermuth was rated the best pass-blocking tight end in the NFL by PFF and has plenty of receiving skill to go along with that. Mitch Trubisky has the potential for deep, explosive plays. But, their offensive line is a huge question mark.
Defensively, Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi will wreak havoc on offensive lines. Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt, who the 2021 Steelers did not win a game without, will be an unstoppable force. Myles Jack looks to revive his career after a tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The formidable ballhawk Minkah Fitzpatrick returns (and hopefully has to make less tackles this year). Ahkello Witherspoon proved he could play lockdown corner for periods of time last season. Defensively, much is exciting.
The Steelers also return one of the highest-paid kickers in NFL history in Chris Boswell. Coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season in his tenure and is the only active coach with such an accomplishment. New General Manager Omar Khan proved he will not shy away from trading for players or signing others to new contracts. The Steelers have stars on offense, defense, and special teams, but coaching must bring out the best in these unproven players for this team to have a great season.
What do you think? Are the Steelers going to perform as an underdog and take down their rivals in orange? Or were the betting odds right to believe in the power of Joe Burrow and the Bengals? Let me know in the comments below!
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
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Let’s hope the Steelers can tune in their chemistry with all the new players and staff.