The Cincinnati Bengals are preparing to play in their second consecutive conference final on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, hoping to return to the Super Bowl and this time win it, after coming up just short a year ago.
The Pittsburgh Steelers would love to have the Bengals’ problems right now, not something that historically has been said very often. Comparing the histories of the respective organizations, at least during the Super Bowl era, there simply is no competition.
But they play in the present, not the past, and that’s where Cincinnati prevails, which Steelers president Art Rooney II virtually conceded during a pool reporter interview on Friday that was broadcast on 93.7 The Fan.
“They’re an impressive team, no doubt about it”, he said of the AFC North-winning Bengals. “They’ve done well and they’re gonna be hard to compete with in the future. That’s why we’ve got to do a lot of things right to be able to compete with them, for sure”.
The Steelers defeated the Bengals 11 consecutive times between 2015 and the first matchup in 2020. Since then, however, they are 1-4, only coming up with a surprising victory in the season opener of the 2022 season, perhaps before Cincinnati’s new offensive line had gotten settled in.
And it took a blocked extra point with two seconds remaining in regulation to spare the Steelers of a defeat, not exactly something that they can count on happening very often. Yes, extra points are missed occasionally, but blocks remain rare, especially in such pivotal moments.
The Bengals experienced five consecutive losing seasons from 2016 through 2020 before winning the AFC North in each of the past two seasons. They failed to earn top seeds but had little difficulty working their way through the postseason, with five playoff wins and counting heading into Sunday’s contest.
You would have to go all the way back to 1988 to account for each of the Steelers’ five most recent losing seasons, none of which have come since they last had one in 2003. They’ve come close a number of times, of course, including in 2022.
But while the Bengals have a great deal more experience losing than to the Steelers in recent times, the playoff experience has flipped on its head. The Steelers haven’t even won a postseason game since 2016, and if you want to go back to their past five, you’re talking about 2010 (with two wins in 2016, one in 2015, and two in 2010).
We can trot out Pittsburgh’s historical record, but that’s not going to do anything about improving it in 2023. Maybe sitting at home watching yet another AFC North team fondle the sticky Lombardi (as the Baltimore Ravens did in 2012) will serve to add further motivation to get their own ship righted so that they can compete with the Bengals of today—remembering that they’re no longer the Bungles of yesteryear.