The tables have certainly turned in the Steelers-Bengals rivalry. Less than two years ago, the Steelers rolled into Cincinnati with a 10-game winning streak over their divisional foe. Pittsburgh lost that night, and will return to the Queen City on Sunday looking to snap a three-game losing streak against the defending AFC champions.
Cincinnati comes into Sunday’s game hoping to build off of last year’s momentum. Led by Joe Burrow, the 2021 Bengals captured the franchise’s first playoff win since 1990, their first-ever road postseason win and their first conference championship since 1988. Zac Taylor’s team also won the AFC North for the first time since 2015 after sweeping Baltimore and Pittsburgh for the first time. They outscored the Steelers a combined 65-20 that included a 41-10 thumping in Cincinnati in Week 12.
Despite their struggles with Cincinnati, the Steelers still managed to win enough games to capture the AFC’s final playoff seed while clinching Mike Tomlin’s NFL record 15th consecutive non-losing season to start a head-coaching career. Sunday marks the beginning of a new era in Pittsburgh as Mitch Trubisky prepares to start his first game in nearly two years after beating out rookie Kenny Pickett for the starting job.
Here’s a full breakdown of Sunday’s divisional showdown.
How to watch Steelers-Bengals
- When: Sunday, Sept. 11 | 1 p.m. ET
- Where: Paycor Stadium — Cincinnati, Ohio
- TV: CBS | Live stream: Paramount+ (click here)
- Follow: CBS Sports App
- Odds: CIN -6.5; PIT +6.5; O/U 44.5 (via Caesars Sportsbook)
When the Steelers have the ball
Pittsburgh will have to a better job running this ball against the Bengals on Sunday than they did last season, as Najee Harris rushed for a combined 63 yards on 22 carries in those games. He was a factor as a receiver in the first matchup, however, catching 14 passes for 102 yards in a losing effort. Harris will try to run behind a rebuilt offensive line this season that includes newcomers Mason Cole and James Daniels. The Steelers’ offensive line will have to deal with a formidable Bengals front that includes Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard and linebacker Logan Wilson, a unit that gave Ben Roethlisberger fits during his final season under center.
The Steelers’ running game will have to be good enough to minimize second and third-and-long situations along with keeping the Bengals honest. The Steelers’ biggest key to success on offense, however, will be Trubisky against a Bengals secondary that was just 26th in the NFL against the pass last season. While Diontae Johnson’s possible absence (he is currently dealing with a shoulder injury) would be a key loss, the Steelers still have enough playmakers — most notable Harris, receivers Chase Claypool, rookie George Pickens and tight end Pat Freiermuth — to have success against Cincinnati’s secondary.
When the Bengals have the ball
Burrow was efficient in both games against Pittsburgh last season. But the star of Cincinnati’s offense in those games was running back Joe Mixon, who ran for a career-high 165 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries in the Bengals’ Week 12 blowout. The Steelers, with the return of Tyson Alualu and the acquisitions of rookie DeMarvin Leal and former Bengal Larry Ogunjobi, are hoping to be much more stout against the run this year.
Along with doing a better job against Mixon, applying pressure on Burrow — something the Steelers did not do last year — will be a critical component to Sunday’s game. The Steelers’ defensive backs will also have to hold their own against arguably the NFL’s best receiving corps, led by Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Look for Cincinnati to test inside linebacker Devin Bush early, as Bush continued to struggle this summer after a disappointing 2021 season.
Key matchup: T.J. Watt vs. La’el Collins
The Bengals brought in Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras to improve their protection of Burrow, who, including the playoffs, was sacked a whopping 70 times in 2021. Watt, who did not record a sack against Burrow last season (he missed the first matchup with an injury), is capable of taking over a game if he is able to have his way against the opposing tackle. Collins, who dealt with a back issue at the start of training camp, will have to minimize Watt’s effectiveness if the Bengals are going to further minimize the Steelers’ upset chances.
Latest Odds: Cincinnati Bengals -7
The Bengals are the stronger team, but the Steelers appear to have enough matchup advantages to pull off a possible upset. Led by Watt, Cam Heyward and Alex Highsmith, Pittsburgh has the ability to rattle Burrow while messing up his timing with Cincinnati’s receivers. The Steelers also have a reliable workhouse in Harris, who is capable of wearing down the Bengals’ defense if Pittsburgh plays in front for most of the game. A quick start is crucial for the visiting Steelers, who would love nothing more than to start Cincinnati’s AFC title defense with a loss.
Pick: Steelers 20, Bengals 16