It was the most anticipated game in 15 years. The Bengals were finally in the playoffs and were riding high as the Steeler rolled in for Wildcard Weekend 2006. Cincinnati had finished the regular season with an 11-5 record and earned the AFC North title as well as the third seed in the AFC. The team’s statement win came in Pittsburgh on December 4, 2005 as the Bengals defeated Pittsburgh 38-31 to effectively claim the AFC North crown.
Wildcard Weekend is drawing near once again, and as fate would have it the Bengals have the third seed in the AFC while the Steelers have backed their way into the sixth seed. The table is set for what should be an exciting match up.
The Steelers ended up with the last laugh, as they took out Carson Palmer early in the first quarter and went on to defeat Cincinnati 31-17 in the Wildcard Round. It’s a loss that Bengals Nation has still yet to recover from, and it marked the first of six straight playoff losses for Cincinnati. Wildcard Weekend is drawing near once again, and as fate would have it the Bengals have earned the third seed in the AFC while the Steelers have again backed their way into the sixth seed. The table is set for what should be an exciting match up.
A lot has changed for both teams since 2005. The Bengals feature an entirely new roster with no remaining veterans from the 2005 team. Pittsburgh on the other hand is still led by the eternal thorn in the Bengals side, Ben Roethlisberger.
In the coaching realm, the Bengals are still in the Marvin Lewis era. Pittsburgh however has replaced Bill Cowher with Mike Tomlin. Both of the Steelers coaches have lead Pittsburgh to a Super Bowl title in the same time frame as Lewis has lost six straight playoff games. With all the changes that have occurred, the one constant is the pure disdain between these two teams.
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The latest battle of these two AFC North powerhouses will be Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium. This will be the third time that the division rivals will meet this season, and thus far the series is tied at one a piece.
Both teams are currently awaiting the status of key players. The Bengals are hoping that Andy Dalton will be able to make an expedited return just in time for Saturday’s games. If Dalton is unable to return then the Bengals will depend once again on the young and inexperienced A.J. McCarron. McCarron is 2-1 in his three career starts, but lost against the Steelers after coming in to replace Dalton.
The Steelers are waiting for a status update on RB DeAngelo Williams who suffered an ankle injury early in their game on Sunday. If Williams is unable to play on Wildcard Weekend the Steelers would be down to their third string RB Fitzgerald Toussaint or possibly Jordan Todman. What is clear from all of this is that the inactive lists for both teams could play a major role in this game.
Since their playoff meeting after the 2005-2006 season, the Steelers have been the top team in the AFC North on four occasions on won the Super Bowl in 2006 and 2009. The Bengals are tied with the Ravens for the second most division title after 2005 with three. But unlike Cincinnati, Baltimore also has a Super Bowl title in that time frame.
It’s that illusive Super Bowl win that keeps the Bengals as the third best AFC North team over the last decade. On a positive note, Cincinnati has made the playoffs seven times since 2005 and this season marks their fifth straight appearance. The Bengals will never shed their status as a second class citizen in one of the NFL’s toughest division until they perform in the post season.
Considering how the Bengals playoff problems began, it’s fitting that they host the Steelers. Ten years after the losing streak began, Cincinnati will have an opportunity to defeat the Steelers in the same stadium, on the same day of the week, and with the same seeding as 2005-2006. Perhaps the journey has come full circle and the Bengals will emerge victorious out of this Déjà vu scenario. Hopefully, the Bengals can rise to the occasion and defeat their bitter rival. A win Saturday could change the image and fortune of the franchise.