The Cincinnati Bengals won the AFC North by two games this year. They finished 12-4 and even beat the Steelers (10-6) in Pittsburgh in Week 8. And yet, the Steelers are 2.5-point favorites heading into their Wild Card showdown this Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET.
Part of that, of course, is because the Bengals could be without Andy Dalton, who was injured on the first offensive series of a 33-20 home loss to the Steelers in Week 14. But the other part of that is that the Steelers have pretty much owned the Bengals in big games, especially big games in Cincinnati.
“Heres the X-factor,” Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan host Bill Mueller said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “For the Steelers, they get to be the Patriots to the Bengals what the Patriots are to the Steelers, where you just go in there and there’s a mental block, I think, if you’re a Steelers fan in the playoffs. (You think), ‘We can’t get by these guys.’ I think that’s what the Bengals see in the Steelers. They see, ‘We can’t get by these guys, whether it’s Kimo von Oelhoffen taking out (Carson) Palmer, whether it’s whatever happens in this game. They’re 14-3 over their last 17 at Paul Brown Stadium. The bottom line is, there’s a mental block in Cincinnati, and if they’re going to get past it, they’re going to have to take it from the Steelers – because as banged up as the Steelers are, they’re not going to give it away. They’re not going to be that stupid. And I have a feeling Roethlisberger is going to get a touchdown early that puts a lot of doubt in everybody on that Cincinnati sideline’s mind.”
If Dalton (thumb) can’t go, the Bengals will have to rely on AJ McCarron, who is 2-1 as a starter. The one loss came to Denver by three points in overtime on Monday Night Football.
“If (Dalton) can’t grip the ball, they got to go with McCarron,” Mueller said. “I think Dalton’s 50/50 at best to play. I think McCarron, if he’s smart, just tries to manage the game and the Steelers have to go gung-ho throwing it a million times (and) could actually win this thing.”
It’s bene an odd year for the Steelers, who started three quarterbacks – Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Landry Jones – through the first seven games of the season. Pittsburgh started 4-4 but won six of its final eight games to sneak into the playoffs.
Do Steelers fans believe in this team? Do they think that the Steelers can not only win in Cincinnati, but also go on a deep playoff run and possibly reach Super Bowl 50?
“If you had asked anybody that question, if you had asked me that question after the Denver-comeback game, a lot of people would’ve said they really are the team nobody wants to deal with right now in the playoffs,” Mueller said, referencing Pittsburgh’s 34-27 home win over the Broncos in Week 15, a game in which the Steelers trailed 27-13 at halftime. “But that Ravens loss to Ryan Mallett, a guy that can’t even wake up on time, that got people a little shook. They didn’t exactly set the world on fire (against Cleveland). They were only up five points going into the fourth quarter against Cleveland. That game was still in doubt a much as it can be if you’re playing Austin Davis. So I think people here are a little concerned. The bottom line is, they needed help from Rex Ryan (in the last week of the season). When has Rex Ryan ever done anything that anyone wanted him to do correctly?”