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Bengals vs Steelers: History and reality don't agree with faith

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The Cincinnati Bengals are hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers this Saturday. History suggests you should be worried; it's a perfect story of pessimism. Thankfully, the future isn't always written.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

You're nervous, aren't you?

It's OK.

It's understandable even.

The turnstile of history usually shouts an annual narrative in which Cincinnati faces insurmountable odds during the playoffs, or games played in primetime, or games played against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Why can't the Bengals play someone like the Chiefs at 1 p.m. with only regional coverage? Gosh.

The storylines for Saturday's game are obviously intriguing, but will slide toward the usual repetitiveness. This is the rubber match from a regular season split against a division rival; a game inviting unresolved emotions that led to nearly $150,000 of fines last month, a Bengals squad exorcising not only their postseason and primetime demons, but the long-standing belief that the Pittsburgh Steelers simply have the Bengals' number.

Then there's the Wild Card game in 2005, which Pittsburgh won 31-17 in a contest that included Carson Palmer's knee injury and, according to legend, a fight between then wide receivers coach Hue Jackson and superstar Chad "OchoCinco" Johnson.

Twitter was aghast when the Broncos defeated the Chargers, the final step that sealed Saturday's rubber match. Text messages were angry. Cincinnati doesn't have a chance, according to the over-reactionary themes bred from cautious pessimism. Let's recall:

  • Cincinnati is winless in six playoff games during the Marvin Lewis era.
  • Cincinnati has a regular season record of 8-19 during the Marvin Lewis era in games played on Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football, the so-called Primetime games.
  • Cincinnati is 4-10 in primetime during the Andy Dalton era - including AJ McCarron's Week 16 loss to Denver on Monday Night Football.
  • Cincinnati is 2-13 against the Steelers in games played at Paul Brown Stadium.

We could ignore this.

All of it.

Maybe we should.

When we're stuck navigating Cincinnati's past, it's not unlike an engine unable to start during sub-zero temperatures. You're stuck thinking, how will the Bengals, who struggle in the postseason, primetime and against the Steelers pull this one out? Should we go ahead and write "loss" in the column and prepare for free agency, the NFL draft and offseason training sessions?

No, stop it. Ignore it.

Fact is, pondering previous failures through the eyes of conservative pessimism crushes our own enthusiasm that should emotionally benefit the city. How many Bengals squads have won eight straight games to start a season? How many NFL teams have qualified for the postseason during five straight seasons? There are no playoff wins to boast about, but this is a team always in the position to upgrade perceptions from good to great. Look at the collapse of other programs, notably that team 250 miles north on I-71.

Previous iterations of playoff teams didn't have components currently on this squad. Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones were out last year -- they combined for 117 receptions, 1,431 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2015 -- as was A.J. Green, in a game that choreographed predetermined depression against the Colts. In addition, Geno Atkins wasn't 100 percent last year and missed the 2013 home game against the San Diego Chargers. Vontaze Burfict, who missed the Wild Card game in Indianapolis, isn't just making his postseason return this Saturday, he concluded the regular season at a level that earned him a Pro Bowl in 2013. Granted, Cincinnati is unlikely to have Andy Dalton. However, backup quarterback AJ McCarron has shown himself to be a successful game manager with relative ball security, provided his receivers are making the ridiculous receptions they've made over the last few weeks.

Understanding history will create a skewed perspective whereas today's reality may not apply. You can approach Saturday with an "Any Given Sunday" mindset, suggesting that whatever happened yesterday is meaningless tomorrow. You can have faith as the football gods will award the team (and their fans) an epic win against a hated rival. Or you can be miserable, debating whether to watch Saturday's game, or Criminal Minds, or Code Black, or Dateline NBC.

Regardless, the Bengals will host the Steelers on Saturday. What happens next is completely unknown.