Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
"Give yourself to the Dark Side." Okay, full disclosure... I don't think they have an official slogan. Mike Tomlin's "The Standard is... the Standard" seems to be the closest thing today.
Mike Tomlin is in his ninth year as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin was the defensive backs coach for the Cincinnati Bearcats from 2000-2001. Apparently, the Queen City wasn't evil enough for him.
11-5 (4-2, 1st in AFC North)
Recapping last season:
The Steelers started 7-5 in 2014 before blowing out the Bengals 42-21 in Week 14. They would close out the season on a 4-0 streak, but lose to the Ravens in the playoffs, 30-17. In that game, they were without running back Le'Veon Bell, who suffered a hyperextended knee against the Bengals in Week 17.
Bengals 2015 Season Game Previews
Before the Bengals 2015 regular season kicks off, we take a look at each opponent the team will face this year and what we should expect from each matchup.
Last year, Pittsburgh emerged as an offensive powerhouse, finishing second in total offense. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed a career year, setting personal marks for touchdown passes (32) and passing yards (4,952). A big reason why was the exceptional play of wide receiver Antonio Brown, who led the league with 1,698 yards receiving. Rookie receiver Martavis Bryant added a big play dimension, averaging 21.1 yards a reception and hauling in eight touchdown receptions on just 49 total targets. Of course, Bell, who powered his way to 1,361 yards rushing and added 854 receiving, is the steam engine of the offense.
Ironically, considering Steelers history, it was the defense that cost Pittsburgh games, as the team gave up 27.8 points in their five losses in the regular season and 30 against the Ravens in the postseason. The once-proud secondary was greatly at fault, finishing 27th overall. Particularly deflating was a 27-24 home loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who would finish just 2-14. In that game, the Steelers gave up a game-winning five-yard touchdown pass to Mike Glennon with seven seconds remaining.
History with Cincinnati:
Cincinnati is only 2-6 against their hated rivals since 2011, also known as the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green era. On December 7, 2014, the Bengals were blown out at home, 42-21, by the Steelers. After taking a four point lead into the fourth quarter, Cincinnati allowed Pittsburgh to score 25 straight points to end the game. More painful, though, was the last game of the regular season, a 27-17 defeat, in which the Bengals would lose both A.J. Green (to a concussion-- he would miss the playoffs) and the AFC North title.
The Pittsburgh offense could potentially be even better in 2015. Oddly, the 33-year old Roethlisberger seems to still be improving. Of course, it could just be that this is the best group of receivers he's ever had. Brown may have not even reached his peak yet. And Bryant has tantalizing potential. However, the Steelers' offense will have to deal with a number of setbacks.
Bell will serve a two-game suspension to start the season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. Pittsburgh also lost four-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to a broken fibula. He is expected to miss 10 games. And Martavis Bryant was suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Recently, Tomlin said that Bryant's issues are "bigger than football." So the Steelers will have to make some adjustments to their offense to start the season and hope Bell, Pouncey and Bryant can get reacclimatized and avoid further injury upon their returns.
On the defensive side, the Steelers added talent, but also lost a few greats. Pittsburgh will have a new defensive coordinator in Keith Butler. Gone is the legendary Dick LeBeau, who is now with the Tennessee Titans. They also lost long-time fixtures in the secondary Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu to retirement. While those two may not have been what they once were, their leadership will be sorely missed. However, Steelers fans are optimistic, as the team brought in help through the draft.
First round pick Bud Dupree, an outside linebacker from Kentucky, should contribute as a situational pass rusher despite his recent struggles. Second round pick cornerback Senquez Golson out of Ole Miss is likely to pick off his share of passes. And corner Doran Grant, a fourth round pick from Ohio State, provides quality depth. Eventually, all three should be big contributors. However, it is unlikely that they can catapult Pittsburgh's pass defense to the top of the defensive rankings in their first year together.
The Steelers will have to win high-scoring affairs for the most part, which usually won't get it done in the AFC North. But with the talent they have on offense, they should be able to win eight to eleven games and contend for a playoff spot.
Week 8: November 1, 1:00 p.m. EST Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Week 14: December 13, 1:00 p.m. EST, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Odds of Bengals victory:
Winning in Cincinnati: 75%
Winning in Pittsburgh: 40%
Sweeping the Steelers: 30%
Getting swept by the Steelers: 15%
Very Early Outlook:
While the Bengals were swept by the Steelers last year, they lost both games due, in large part, to surrendering long touchdown passes. With Cincinnati's youthful secondary rapidly improving under the guidance of Vance Joseph and Mark Carrier, I expect the Bengals to be better prepared in that area. Of course, Pittsburgh will still put up points, so Cincinnati may need to win a shootout, which, believe it or not, I believe they will be fully capable of doing with Andy Dalton finally equipped with a healthy receiving corps.