Rivalry with Steelers could go in Bengals’ favor in 2021

Bengals defensive back Vonn Bell forces a fumble on a first-quarter catch by Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.Juju
Bengals defensive back Vonn Bell forces a fumble on a first-quarter catch by Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.Juju /

One of the biggest issues in recent years for the Cincinnati Bengals has been struggles against AFC North division rivals. The Bengals are just 2-10 in division games since Zac Taylor became head coach. For the franchise to head back in a winning direction, doing better in division games is a must.

No rival has had Cincinnati’s number quite like the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are a whopping 34-10 against the Bengals since 2000.

The good news is if there ever was a time for the Bengals to turn the rivalry around, that time starts in 2021.

Given that the Steelers were already likely headed to the playoffs and Cincinnati had already clinched another losing season, it is hard to call Cincinnati’s Monday Night upset of the Steelers last December a turning point in the rivalry.

However, it was one of many signs we saw late last year that Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger-led offense is in serious trouble. They lost four of their last five regular-season games as well as their playoff opener. The Steelers were held under 20 points three times in December last year.

Now 39, Roethlisberger returns for another year.  Like Cincinnati, the Steelers have significant offensive line question marks. The difference is the offensive line in Cincinnati is protecting a much younger and more mobile quarterback in Joe Burrow.

Rookie Najee Harris is tasked with giving Pittsburgh the ground game it did not have last year. Harris is certainly capable, but an awful lot is being asked of him.

The Cincinnati Bengals can turn the tides on the Steelers.

With Ja’Marr Chase added to an offense that consists of Burrow, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins, the Bengals have significantly better offensive impact pieces than the Steelers for the first time in a long time.

Cincinnati’s first game with the Steelers this year is in Week 3 on the road. Every team is still realistically in the playoff hunt at that point so it will carry pretty much the same amount of meaning for both teams.

There are no “easy games” in the NFL and the Steelers beat the Bengals twice in 2019 with backup quarterbacks nonetheless.

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Still, on paper, there is no reason Cincinnati can’t beat Pittsburgh on Sept. 26. If the Bengals can do it, it will set the tone for the season and force the rest of the league to take them a bit more seriously.

If the Steelers simply add another win to their roughly two decades of manhandling the men in stripes, the Bengals can forget about competing with more complete rosters like Baltimore and Cleveland, and the all too familiar phrase of “same old Bengals” applies.