The Cincinnati Bengals may be 10-2, and already have a game in hand against the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, but a season sweep has been rare indeed in their franchise’s history. In contrast, the Steelers’ most recent sweep of the Bengals came just last year as they stole the division title from them in the season finale on their own field.
The last time these two teams met, this was not quite the same team. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has just returned from an injury, and he certainly looked like it, particularly as the game wore on. They scored just 10 points that game, and only three following the opening drive, their lowest of the season, and by far the lowest in a game that Roethlisberger finished.
In contrast, this time, it is the Bengals who are banged up, while the Steelers finished the week with their entire 53-man roster listed as no worse than probable for the game, including tight end Heath Miller, who sat out last week with a rib injury.
The Bengals are likely to be without a starting cornerback in Adam Jones, who has been dealing with a foot injury and did not practice all week. Their nickel cornerback, and former starter, Leon Hall, has been dealing with a back injury; though he practiced in full on Friday, he is still listed as questionable.
Starting safety George Iloka, too, is listed as questionable to play with a groin injury despite returning to the practice field to close out the week. Even assuming the best-case scenario, that is three fifths of the Bengals’ starting secondary that could be playing at notably less than 100 percent.
That should be music to Roethlisberger’s ears a week after he posted a 364-yard, four-touchdown game. A week earlier, he put up more yards on the Seahawks’ secondary than anybody in team history, and they entered that week with the second-stingiest unit.
In that last game, Roethlisberger threw for 262 yards, but he did so on 45 pass attempts, averaging just 5.8 yards per attempt. After his opening drive touchdown pass, he threw three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter.
It was a typical Roethlisberger coming off of injury game, it seems, but he has since hit his stride, coming off arguably his best game of the year, in one of the most crucial games remaining on the schedule, and not simply because a loss would be the end of the division race.
This is also a wide receiver group that is primed for the stretch run, coming off the first game in a time together in which Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton all caught a touchdown pass.
It may not be easy for the Steelers’ defense to hold the Bengals’ offense to just 16 points again. Cincinnati is averaging over 30 points per game this season. But it’s equally unlikely that this offense is going to have a repeat performance of their last showing against the Bengals, especially against this secondary in this condition. Expect a far higher-scoring game this time around.