One of the best local NFL rivalries of the year takes place this weekend, and I’ve been looking forward to it since the start of the season.
The Bengals and Steelers play at Paul Brown Stadium this Sunday at 8.pm. in what looks to be the most evenly-matched game in years.
Newspapers and websites are calling this a “do-or-die” game with the potential to define their season trajectory.
The Steelers are staring at a losing season at 2-3. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t led a 6-2 or better start since he started five seasons ago. If the Steelers lose on Sunday, they’d drop to 0-4 on the road and be written off from the playoffs for the first time in years.
Meanwhile, the Bengals are coming off two conference losses and are looking to rebound back into the winning record. At 3-3, this is the game where Cincinnati proves itself a playoff contender.
But they’ve got their work cut out for them. The Steelers won the last 10 of 11 in Cincinnati.
But if the Bengals ever had a chance to shut down the Steel Curtain in the last few years, this is it.
The Steelers won’t have safety Troy Polamalu tearing up the Bengals offense due to a plaguing calf injury, and linebacker Chris Carter is out from a bad hamstring.
Not to mention the Steeler offensive line continues has been consistently hampered with injuries.
Even so, Sunday might boil down to a battle of QBs.
Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton has thrown nine interceptions this season but won’t be sweating as much on Sunday because the Steelers D has been slouching.
With less pressure on Dalton, he’ll have room to breath and could make the Bengals sail ahead offensively.
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor will be paired with AJ Green, one of the best receivers in the NFL.
To deal with Green’s jets, the Steelers will send a safety to his side to give Taylor some help. This plan will open up passing lanes to Dalton’s other receivers even more.
And Big Ben will be looking to his wideouts with Redman and Mendenhall injured, making his options predictable. If the Bengals play smart, they can keep a cap on the Steelers best chance of yardage.
Add to that the overwhelming Steelers penalty problems, and you’ve got yourself the first Bengals/Steelers match in awhile that is totally up in the air.
But no matter the result, Sunday’s match will give the AFC North some clarity. One team will continue playing for the title, while the other walks away humbled.
Ryan Carpe is a sports writer for the Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.