What was Vontaze Burfict thinking with his hit on Antonio Brown?
Why was Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter not penalized for being on the field?
How could Pacman Jones react that way knowing the gravity of the situation?
These are all questions that will surface again as Sunday’s rematch between the AFC foes approaches. I asked myself these same questions, moments after the unmitigated collapse the Bengals allowed to end their 2015 season. There have been serious highs, followed by excruciating lows with the Bengals under Marvin Lewis’ tenure. The last seven times the Bengals have earned a trip to the playoffs, they’ve failed to win a game. The long awaited victory looked to be in hand, late in the 4th quarter of last season’s game, but it all slipped away in an instant. Those involved in last year’s meltdown must deal with what happened- Vontaze Burfict is currently serving a suspension for his dangerous conduct. The teammates it impacted must work to position the team for yet another chance for 2016. The Bengals enter Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh with the opportunity to turn the page and move forward. The Steelers, on the other hand, look to continue to assert themselves over their division rival. One things for sure: there’s no shortage of storylines for the rematch.
These are the key factors I’ll be watching:
1. Can Emotions Be Held in Check?
This rivalry has a long history of cheapshots and dirty plays, stemming from both sidelines. As noted above, emotions have directly impacted the result in the past. Many believe the Steelers got away with some foul play of their own last time out, and they are certainly still upset at Burfict taking a shot at their All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown. I’ll be interested to see how much of the animosity boils over into the Week 2 matchup. I have a feeling the Bengals are anxious to prove they can handle themselves, but everyone says that until they’ve been hit in the mouth.
2. The Wide Receiver Matchup: A.J. Green vs. Antonio Brown
Two guys that looked absolutely unstoppable last week. Green has a recent history of torching the Steelers defensive backs. Brown has been held in check, by his standards, by the Bengals over the last few meetings. These are two of the elite receivers in the game; I foresee them both lighting up the stat sheet. Everyone knows these guys will be heavily schemed against by the opposing defense, so we’ll see who makes the most of their opportunities.
3. What Bengal is Ready to Step Up?
A.J. Green cannot carry this team to victory Sunday afternoon. The Steelers simply have too many offensive weapons for one man to match. Frequent target last season Tyler Eifert remains out due to injury, and last year’s #2 and #3 receivers have found new teams. The Bengals cannot come out of Heinz Field with a win without another offensive threat stepping into the forefront. Brandon LaFell or newcomer Tyler Boyd will have to ease A.J. Green’s load, and the duo of Hill and Bernard must contribute heavily if the Bengals are going to keep up with Big Ben and Co. I think Hill steps up in a big way, anxious to shake his costly fumble in last year’s playoff game.
My Prediction: Bengals 27 – Steelers 24