The Cincinnati Bengals have had this game circled on their calendars for the past 273 days. How could they not, after Jeremy Hill‘s fumble late in the 4th quarter of the wild-card matchup on January 9th? How could they not, after Pittsburgh took the gift-wrapped turnover, drove down the field and kicked a field goal to win 18-16? That fumble was one of those moments that made everybody in the stands feel like the hero in a corny 1980s action movie … you know, where his best friend dies in his arms, then he looks up and screams “NOOOOOO!!”
Cincinnati has a chance to put a little balm on that ouchie on Sunday in Pittsburgh. It may not be full-blown redemption, but let’s face it – any win in the NFL’s nastiest rivalry is one to savor. These teams hate each other, and they have the penalties (47 for 515 yards in the last 3 games) and fines ($229,000 from actions in the last 2) to prove it. Here are 4 things to watch for in tomorrow’s slugfest.
- It’s all on the line. Okay, this one isn’t exactly number 1 vs. number 2, but it’s worth noting. The Cincinnati Bengals allowed 7 sacks last week against the Jets. The Pittsburgh Steelers, on the other hand, never brought down Redskins QB Kirk Cousins. Ummmm … something’s gotta give?
- The Dalton difference. Andy Dalton threw for 231 yards in the November 1 matchup (a 16-10 Bengals win in Pittsburgh) and tossed the game-winning touchdown with less than 3 minutes left. He broke this thumb early in the December 1 rematch and didn’t play in the playoff game, both Steeler wins. He’s the guy you want under center in the clutch and the striped-helmeted boys are glad he’s back.
- Who will wear the Catch Crown? Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green was unstoppable last week, catching 12 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown. But Antonio Brown‘s week against Washington was also impressive, as he hauled in 8 for 126 and 2 scores. It will be interesting to see who has the better game tomorrow.
- Bringing up bad memories. It may not be a prop bet in Vegas, but it will be interesting to see how many times the announcers bring up the playoff game. We’ll set the over/under at 10. For that reason alone, Bengals fans may want to hit the “Mute” button on the remote.
Cincy won 16-10 in Pittsburgh last year, so there’s no when-are-we-gonna-beat-em mental hump to get over. But they still must shake off January 9th. Easing the pain of that playoff loss starts Sunday. Cincinnati just needs to hold onto the ball. And since it’s Bengals-Steelers, fans should hold onto their hats.