If you've been paying attention, you probably saw this one coming. There are going to be a lot of great matchups to look forward to during the Bengals' upcoming season, but none more than Vontaze Burfict vs the Steelers' offense. We'll have to wait quite some time for that to happen as Burfict will be sitting out of the teams' Week 2 matchup. So, it won't be until Week 15 that Burfict and the Steelers' offense matchup.
So far, we've explored nine of the 10 best positional matchups on the Bengals' 2016 schedule. Here's the list so far:
You know the Bengals' rivalry with the Steelers is intense when four of the top 10 matchups of the season and all of the top three feature players from these two teams. You could maybe argue that there are other matchups that deserve some recognition here rather than focusing so much on the Cincinnati/Pittsburgh rivalry. But, analyzing each matchup individually, it's hard to say that any one of these four don't belong. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find one matchup this season more interesting and exciting than Burfict against the Steelers' offense.
Burfict and the Pittsburgh Steelers simply do not like each other. On top of multiple injuries after plays involving Burfict and accusations of foul play lobbied at him, the bad blood between Burfict and the Steelers has been noted as the best player rivalry in the NFL.
Over the course of his four year career, Burfict and the Steelers have met a total of seven times. They didn't get a chance to play each other during his injury plagued 2014 season. But, two regular season games a year plus a playoff game in January have seen him put up 49 tackles, 17 assisted tackles, a sack, and an interception.
His lone sack came in the Bengals' 2016 Wild Card matchup with the Steelers. The hit was a pivotal one for the Bengals, forcing the Steelers to punt and allowing the Bengals to go on to score their first points of the game.
The sack and subsequent touchdown from the Bengals' offense lead to a 16 point comeback for the Bengals in the fourth quarter. Following the Bengals' second touchdown that put them ahead 16-15, Burfict made an interception on Landry Jones late in the fourth quarter that really should have allowed the Bengals to wrap things up and grab their first playoff win since 1991.
Things were crazy in Cincinnati for a bit, until Jeremy Hill fumbled on the subsequent drive and a pair of personal fouls from Burfict and Adam Jones resulted in the Steelers being set up in prime field goal position. And, as we all know, one of those fouls was due to a hit on Antonio Brown that caused him to have a concussion and miss the Steelers' subsequent game against the Denver Broncos.
Burfict's behavior throughout his NFL career has been pretty predictable if you followed the buzz surrounding him before the draft. Despite possessing first round talent, his attitude and inability to work with his college coaches caused NFL teams to completely avoid the dynamic linebacker in the draft, allowing the Bengals to sign him as a college free agent in 2012. Since then, he has become a key player on the Bengals' defense and has been regularly recognized as one of the most talented linebackers in the league. But, he hasn't done much to dispel the notion that he has a bad attitude.
Due to his actions at the end of the Bengals/Steelers Wild Card game, as well as other violations of the league's safety rules, Burfict will be suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season. That means, when the Bengals travel to Pittsburgh in Week 2 to face off against the Steelers, we won't get to watch the Bengals' No. 1 best matchup of 2016.
However, Burfict will be back in plenty of time for the Bengals to host the hated Steelers in Week 15. It could very well end up being a division championship game, so tensions will be as high as they've ever been. Burfict should be ready and hungry to face off against his arch rivals, but hopefully, this will be a safely played game without the injuries we've seen on both teams in recent matchups.
Over the last couple of years, the Steelers' offense has established itself as one of the best in the NFL. Due to Roethlisberger's advanced age and the fact that his play style is just not kind to his body, you would probably expect them to be taking a step back at this point. But, the emergence of high performance players like Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell have allowed the Steelers' offense to rank among the top three offenses in both of the last two years.
In the past, the Steelers' offense has generally been the victim of Burfict's rough style of play. Roethlisberger, Brown, and Bell have all been relegated to the sidelines after being injured during plays involving the Bengals' linebacker, so they will surely be eager to get some revenge going forward.
Who has the advantage?
Given Roethlisberger's advanced age, I would say that Burfict has the advantage in this matchup. Roethlisberger experienced numerous injuries last season, so who's to say what a few more hits will do to him this year.
Hopefully, Burfict will be more careful so as to not potentially hurt the Bengals' chances by making more boneheaded hits like the one on Brown back in January. If he can keep that to a minimum, it is going to be hard to see any way that the Steelers will be able to get the best of him.
The Steelers may or may not be able to find ways to put together offensive drives on the side of the field in which Burfict is not located. But, it's going to be very difficult for the Steelers to get anything done directly matched up against him if he is on his 'A' game.