Ever since Big Ben came to the Steelers in 2004, Bengals - Steelers has grown into one of the NFL’s best rivalries for the majority of his career. Ben has typically had the Bengals’ number, but the series has been more 50-50 ever since Vontaze Burfict came to the Bengals in 2012.
Since then, the Bengals have won two of their three games in Pittsburgh when Burfict has played (0-2 in Pittsburgh when Burfict is out). The Bengals are also 3-4 versus the Steelers with Burfict in the lineup of their last seven meetings, and two of those losses came with Andy Dalton injured in the 2015 season.
While Ben usually knows how to get the better of even the NFL’s best defenders, Burfict has proved to be one of his more difficult challenges to overcome.
During his Tuesday radio show, Ben spoke about Burfict and gave mostly praise to the Pro Bowl Bengals linebacker.
"I see a guy that’s still one of the best linebackers in the game, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re winning," said Ben on 93.7 The Fan. "He’s a great football player.”
However, Ben also took a slight jab at Burfict in regards to the extracurricular stuff the star linebacker tends to get into.
"It seems like every time he plays us, something else just comes out,” said Ben. “We’ll have to see on Sunday."
In two of the last three games in which Burfict has faced the Steelers, he’s inflicted a serious injury on at least one Steeler. In a 2015 regular-season game in Pittsburgh, Burfict made a tackle on Le’Veon Bell that led to a torn MCL for the All-Pro running back.
Then in the 2016 Wild Card playoff game, Burfict made a tackle on Ben that led to him injuring his shoulder, leaving the game temporarily, and being severely limited in the following week’s Divisional Round loss to the Denver Broncos.
That same Wild Card game saw Burfict have a vicious hit on Antonio Brown that concussed the star receiver and kept him out of the ensuing Divisional Round playoff loss.
To be fair to Burfict, only one of those three injury-inducing hits was deemed to be illegal by the NFL. That was the hit on Brown, which helped lead to Burfict serving a three-game suspension to open the 2016 regular season.
Now, Burfict has been suspended twice since entering the NFL, and he’ll be under the microscope in Pittsburgh this week. He’s been better about avoiding the extracurricular stuff, but this weekend will prove to be his biggest test as to whether he’s truly overcome his past to understand how the NFL expects him to behave on-the-field.