It's probably no surprise that the Bengals and Steelers games in 2016 are likely to produce a lot of fireworks. We've already looked at one matchup between the two rivals, Carlos Dunlap vs Marcus Gilbert. But, there are many more that will be just as, if not more interesting and fun to watch. In particular, the matchup between pro bowlers Adam Jones and Antonio Brown should be one of the most exciting of the season. Though the Bengals don't play man-to-man, whenever the two are lined up opposite one another, it should be fun to watch.
Stop me if you've heard this one: the Bengals and Steelers don't like each other. It's a fact that not just Bengals and Steelers fans are aware of, but the NFL community as a whole.
Jones and Brown are key pieces to this rivalry, being at the center of a major point of contention last season. On top of facing off against each other three times as each team's top option at opposing positions, they were involved in one of the most controversial events of the year when Brown was laid out by Vontaze Burfict in the playoffs. The hit drew a flag and caused a series of events that stirred Jones up, leading to him committing a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Following the incident, the Steelers were set up for an easy field goal with only seconds left in a 16-15 game where the Bengals held a slim lead. Chris Boswell converted the field goal and the Bengals went home while the Steelers went on to play the Denver Broncos in the divisional round. Afterwards, Jones called Brown out for allegedly faking his injury, although later apologized when Brown was, in fact, ruled out for the next playoff game.
With such a fiery history between the two, we can only hope that their matchups in 2016 produce excitement only for football reasons, rather than extracurricular ones.
In 2015, Jones was one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He put together 53 tackles, 12 passes deflected, three interceptions, a forced fumble, and a sack in a season that earned him a Pro Bowl berth. In the process, he allowed only a single touchdown all season. In fact, as we've previously explored with Pro Football Focus, he only allowed a passer rating of 60.0 to opposing quarterbacks when targeted.
However, Jones' career hasn't always been smooth sailing and particularly impressive. He was drafted sixth overall by the Tennessee Titans in 2005, but only contributed for two years before sitting out for the 2007 season due to suspension issues. He was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, who cut him at the end of that season. He was out of the league in 2009 and didn't return until 2010 when he joined the Bengals.
With the Bengals, he regularly proved his worth as a kick/punt returner, averaging 11.3 yards per punt return over his tenure with the team and 26.9 yards per kick return.
With the departure of Terence Newman after the 2014 season, Jones received his chance to start at cornerback and rewarded the team with excellent play. In three matchups against Brown in 2015, Brown had only a single game with over 100 receiving yards and a single touchdown in another.
Like Jones, Brown has become a potent kick/punt returning option for his team in addition to his ability to play his normal position at an elite level. In 2015, Brown recorded 136 catches for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns. In addition, he returned 22 punts for 212 yards and 1 touchdown.
For the most part, he seems to be a multi-tooled player, but one who struggled to find consistency against the Bengals in 2015. Before 2015, he was regularly a thorn in their side, putting up 90+ yards and at least one touchdown in most of their meetings. As previously explored, he hasn't managed to find the same level of production when playing opposite Adam Jones, so you can bet that he'll be looking to assert himself as the better player regardless of any other reasons he might have to one-up Jones.
Who has the advantage?
Based on the history between these two players, you've got to give the advantage to Jones. Not many players can hold an elite receiver like Brown to only mild effectiveness on a regular basis, but Jones seems to have found the formula.
Coming off arguably the best season of his career, there also doesn't seem to be much reason to start factoring age into the equation for Jones just yet. Yes, the 27-year-old Brown is about five years younger and, therefore, five years fresher and looser. But, there's something to be said about momentum, and Jones seems to have plenty of it right now.
The two players will face off in Week 2 and Week 15. You could potentially make the argument that Jones will have the advantage early in the season, while Brown will have the advantage later when fatigue potentially starts to set in for the older Jones. However, to an extent, age is a state of mind, and Jones doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon.