Cincinnati Bengals: As one AFC North Rival falls, Another Rises

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December 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) tackles Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) during the second quarter at Heinz Field. The Cincinnati Bengals won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For years, even as the Cincinnati Bengals found success against Baltimore Ravens, the answer to the Pittsburgh Steelers has seemed to elude them.

Outside of Cincinnati’s division sweep in 2009, the Bengals have beaten the Steelers just two other times since 2006.

One of those times was last year’s Week 16 game at Heinz Field, a game that decided who would go onto the playoffs.

It was the type of game you where you wouldn’t expect the Bengals to fly back home with a win. Indeed, it wasn’t a pretty game, as Leon Hall’s interception returned for a touchdown in the first half was the only touchdown that the Bengals mustered in their 13-10 defensive win.

But perhaps that’s what makes it so special for Cincinnati. The fact that the team that had faced so little success against their rival was able to win a gritty battle in the trenches speaks volumes on a possible shift of power in the AFC North between the two teams.

When analyzing Pittsburgh’s roster, for the first time in a while, we see holes. There are questions about the offensive line, about Roethlisberger’s health, and about aging veterans that once kept the team solidified in a playoff mentality all year long.

Then you look at Cincinnati’s roster and can’t help but smile if you’re a Bengals fan. It’s been quite some time since the Bengals have had such a complete team, one that’s built to win with both offense and defense.

And Bengals fans also see what I see: a changing of the guard in the AFC North.

When the Steelers make their annual visit to PBS in Week 2, I don’t expect them to leave with a win, and that’s a great feeling to have.

But they may not be the Bengals’ biggest worry any more.

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