The Cincinnati Bengals are all alone atop the AFC North. Can they slay the dragon in the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have had their number as of late?
The postseason woes of head coach Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals have been well documented. Hired in 20013, the much-maligned sideline leader has taken this franchise to the playoffs seven times and came up short in each instance. Of course, not all of Cincinnati’s woes in this department can be blamed on Lewis. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990 – the longest-active streak in the league.
After five consecutive playoff appearances from 2011-15, the Bengals hit the skids the next two years. After winning the AFC North in 2015 with a 12-4 record, the team combined for a 13-18-1 mark. A year ago, the Bengals dropped their first three games and failed to score a touchdown the first two weeks of the season. But give credit where credit is due. Lewis had this team playing hard and at the end of the year the club kept the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens out of the 2017 playoffs.
After five games this year, the only blemish on Lewis’ squad’s record is a 31-21 loss at Carolina to the Panthers. A week ago against the Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati, quarterback Andy Dalton and company rallied from a 17-0 third-quarter deficit for a 27-17 win. The Bengals’ defense took matters into its own hands late in the game, scoring a pair of touchdowns off turnovers by Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Entering the weekend, Lewis’ club is alone atop the AFC North with a 4-1 record. But here come the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that has not only tormented the Bengals for more than a decade but a club that has made Paul Brown Stadium their home away from home. Including that 2015 Wild Card Playoff loss in which mental miscues late in the game by linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones cost Cincinnati a win, the Steelers have taken six straight meetings in this series – four of those in the Queen City.
In fact, including playoff wins in both 2005 and ’15, the Steelers own a 16-2 record at Cincinnati dating back to 2002. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger has certainly enjoyed his share of success in the series. Including the postseason, the 15-year pro owns a 23-7 career record as a starter in this series, throwing for a combined 7,091 and 42 scores compared to 28 interceptions.
A year ago, Mike Tomlin’s team won the AFC North with a 13-3 record and swept their divisional rivals. So far in 2018, there’s been a tie at Cleveland and a home loss to the Baltimore Ravens. But in many ways, this is actually a much bigger game for Lewis, Dalton and the Bengals. Yes, they are all alone atop the AFC North but slaying the dragon that has tormented them for far too long is very important. The team needs to not only end their home losing streak in this longtime rivalry but that overall six-game skid as well.
This is a Cincinnati team that has won six of its last seven games dating back to Week 16 of ’17. This season, the club has shown it can score points in a variety of ways and already owns a 3-0 record within the conference. The NFL recently announced that the club’s Week 7 clash with the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium has been moved to prime time. That says a lot for both of those teams. But first things first and that’s handling business at home against that bully from the Steel City.