The Pittsburgh Steelers have made it to the postseason for the second straight year, and for the second consecutive time, their first opponent will be one that they are seeing for the third time during the season. Last year, it was the Baltimore Ravens, with whom they split the season series before they fell unfashionably in the Wildcard round, 30-17, to their division rivals.
This time, the Steelers will have to contend with the Cincinnati Bengals for the third time, with whom they again split the season series, losing the first meeting before coming back to avenge the loss. Pittsburgh did beat the Bengals twice in 2014.
If the Steelers hope to avoid a third consecutive one-and-done in the playoffs, dating back to 2011, and a fourth straight postseason loss overall since their defeat in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2010 season, then they are going to have to find a way to beat the Bengals again, on the road.
Of course, their victory over the Bengals this season did come in Cincinnati, but it comes with a bit of an asterisk, as the home team had to deal with quite a bit of adversity during the course of the game, losing both quarterback Andy Dalton and tight end Tyler Eifert in the first quarter, if I recall correctly.
The fact of the matter is that the Bengals have not been a pushover without Dalton. In fact, the Bengals have gone 2-1 with A.J. McCarron starting, only narrowly losing to the Broncos in overtime, though the victories came over the 49ers and Ravens.
Not that they ask him to do more than he needs to. In the season finale, he threw 27 passes for 160 yards, two of those passes resulting in touchdown. One touchdown went to his tight end, Eifert, who caught four passes for 51 yards.
The Steelers scored just 10 points on offense in the two teams’ first meeting, which included a touchdown on their opening drive, but the defense held its own, even in a losing effort, limiting the Bengals to 16 points with a healthy Dalton and Eifert. Cincinnati scored 10 points off of turnovers in the fourth quarter.
The game was Ben Roethlisberger’s first back from a knee injury that wiped out a quarter of his season, and it showed, throwing three interceptions, including two rather poor attempts in the fourth quarter, but he was more consistent in the second meeting, even without a touchdown pass.
The Steelers managed to put up 33 points, though aided in that effort with a pick six by the defense, to go along with two rushing touchdowns and a four-field goal performance from their first-year kicker. The McCarron-led Bengals managed 20 points, including a touchdown in what was essentially extended garbage time.
Up until last year, with the loss to the Ravens, the Steelers had been very successful in third games against the same opponent in the same season. In fact, it was the first third meeting that they ever lost. Will they be able to start a new winning streak on Saturday?