2017 South Side Questions: Better Bengals Second Time Around?

The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: How much better is this Bengals team compared to the one that the Steelers faced earlier this season?

I don’t think it would be fair to say that the Bengals are a good team. It doesn’t even seem as though they would describe themselves as such right now. A number of players lamented their performance on Sunday in their win over the Browns.

Defeating Cleveland this season accounts for 40 percent of Cincinnati’s victories this year, as they now stand at 5-6 on the season and no longer have the luxury of feeding upon bottom-dwellers. Their remaining schedule includes five games they can lose, including all of the NFC North short of Green Bay, as well as the Ravens and the Steelers.

But they have gotten better, at least some, even if they were on something of a mini ‘streak’ when they met up last time, having won their two previous games after losing their first three. They are again on a two-game winning streak, beating the Browns and the Broncos, the latter in Denver, and seem on an upward trajectory.

They finally got the ground game going last week, with Joe Mixon having his best game of the season. They also got Kevin Minter back at outside linebacker, which has allowed Vontaze Burfict to move back to the middle linebacker position.

With right tackle Jake Fisher on the non-football injury list, he has been replaced in the starting lineup by Andre Smith, who frankly is the better player between the two anyway, and was the Bengals’ right tackle for years prior to 2016.

This is also a motivated Bengals team that is looking to stay in the hunt for the playoffs this year, which isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. With some former contenders freefalling, the wildcard race is opening, with the Ravens being one of their top competitors, which makes their season finale against one another all the more intriguing if they both stay relevant that far.

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