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Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preview and Prediction

Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown

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The AFC North is always one of the more competitive division races in the NFL and the three main contenders for the title in 2016 all got off to a very good 1-0 start in Week 1. Things will move into overdrive for the second week of the season however, as one of the league’s most hard-fought rivalry games will get underway in a contest that will likely have an impact when it comes to playoff seeding for both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers are no doubt looking to continue their winning ways in the regular season, having won five of their last six dating back to the end of last year. The team looked extremely impressive in the opener against Washington, with Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 300 yards and three scores while DeAngelo Williams looked extremely sharp in the run game, going off for 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The new-look Pittsburgh defense also looked solid in its first outing of the season by limiting the Redskins to just a single touchdown in four trips to the red zone in what became a Monday night runaway.

Things weren’t so easy for the Bengals in their opening week win over the Jets as the team needed a late 47-yard field goal from Mike Nugent in the final minute to escape with a one point win. Andy Dalton’s numbers were good in the end — it helps to have A.J. Green explode for 180 yards and a touchdown — but the quarterback was sacked seven times in a tough day at the office. Things don’t get any easier on the road at a division rival this week considering how active the front seven for the Steelers typically is for games like this.

While every game is important, this matchup has definitely been circled on the calendars of Bengals' players ever since they suffered a loss in January during the AFC Wild Card game that resulted in several rather infamous personal fouls giving the Steelers a late win. Pittsburgh has won five of the last six meetings as a result and are 13-2 in home openers at Heinz Field. It should be another fascinating AFC North battle between two of the best teams in the conference on Sunday.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Steelers -3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Cincinnati’s offensive line 

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Bengal quarterback Andy Dalton’s return to regular season action in Week 1 resulted in plenty of positives and negatives. On one hand, he threw for 366 yards and a touchdown against the Jets, often hooking up with his favorite target in A.J. Green. However, he was also sacked a career-high seven times (he was taken down only 20 times last year) and was under fire for most of the afternoon by the Jets' front seven. Cincinnati was expected to have one of the better offensive lines in all of football but that wasn’t the case in Week 1. The Steelers are not quite as good up front as New York is but the Bengals will still need to step things up in the trenches or else it will be another long day facing off against the likes of Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.

2. Smash-mouth game or Air Raid? 

In a division known for smash-mouth football, it seems as though any time these two teams meet they’re ready to take that style to the next level. Physical defense and hard-fought run games are staples of each squad’s identity but things have started to shift the past few years. Now it’s the aerial attacks for both the Steelers and Bengals that are fueling their success and that should once again be the case when the two meet again in Week 2. It will be fascinating to see what kind of game breaks out because if it’s a shootout, that likely favors Pittsburgh. If things are back to a grind-it-out type of game, Cincinnati has a much better chance of pulling the upset.

3. Pittsburgh’s pass defense

A.J. Green turned heads around the league last week when he put up 180 yards through the air, most coming at the expense of Jets’ star cornerback Darrelle Revis. Slowing down the Bengals' wideout will undoubtedly be at the center of the Steelers’ game plan but it seems even more important after the Week 1 outburst against one of the better corners in the league. Pittsburgh stiffened in the red zone against Washington but still allowed several big plays in the opener through the air — things that will need to get corrected with a much better offense coming to town. A strong pass rush will help but the Steelers’ secondary will ultimately need to come up with some stops if they’re to slow down a very good offense that has one of the best quarterback/receiver duos in the league.

Final Analysis

It seems like every time Pittsburgh and Cincinnati get together, a fairly entertaining game is going to ensue. Part of that is due to the rough-and-tumble nature of the division both teams are in but it also speaks to the high level of play each franchise has had over the past few years. Given that both squads are among the favorites to secure home-field advantage in the AFC once again this year, you can expect another fun game on Sunday.

NFL Power Rankings: Steelers

The first meeting of the season, especially so early in the schedule, takes on added significance considering what happened last year. Keep in mind that Vontaze Burfict injured Le’Veon Bell back in Week 8 and accusations flew that the Bengals were intentionally trying to hurt the running back. Then, of course, Burfict was flagged for a huge shot to Antonio Brown’s head late in the playoff game and Adam Jones was flagged after getting into an altercation with linebackers coach (and former player in the rivalry) Joey Porter. It was enough drama for a decade condensed into three games spanning the 2015 season.

So what happens this time out? You can certainly expect a chippy game between the two to break out and the possibility of a few personal fouls to swing the momentum in any direction. Strictly between the lines however, this is one of the better matchups of the week with a high-powered Steelers offense trying to get past a stingy Bengals defense. On the flip side, both the Cincinnati offense and the Pittsburgh defense have things to work on after a few uneven series during their wins last week.

It should all result in another back-and-forth game that comes down to who can make the most big plays but don’t be surprised that the Steelers are able to come out on top in their home opener.

Prediction: Steelers 33, Bengals 27

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.