After all, the Steelers are atop the AFC and the Bengals are clinging to their playoff hopes by a thread. Also the Steelers have recently owned the Bengals. Cincinnati has sprinkled in a few wins over the years, but none of them have really come this late in the season during important games. Most people would expect the Steelers to take this game slightly less seriously than previous installments.
It doesn’t help that earlier this season when the Bengals were riding a two-game winning streak into their game with the Steelers in hopes of reigniting their playoff hopes, the Steelers stomped out those hopes. Now with pretty much the exact same scenario few average NFL fans give the Bengals much of a shot, so it is understandable that people think the Steelers could be looking ahead.
Yet Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger reassure everyone that is not the case. Tomlin had this to say:
“It’s AFC North ball. We love that. We understand what that is. They’re riding a two-game win streak. It’s critical ball for them as it is for us.”
This makes sense considering the Patriots are right on the Steelers’ tail for the one seed in the AFC. Those teams will meet in three weeks, but the Steelers can’t afford to slip up against the Bengals and Ravens before then. Also an ill-timed losing streak could lead to the Titans, Jaguars or even Ravens jumping them in the standings. It isn’t very likely, but if the Steelers start looking ahead to teams it isn’t so crazy.
Roethlisberger shared his thoughts about the upcoming Bengals game during his weekly radio show, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN:
"For me, I am 100 percent on Cincinnati and nothing else. That is my biggest focus because these guys are going to come out to get us. They want to ruin our playoff chances. I know those guys are going to want to get after us and try to ruin our Christmas."
Roethlisberger made these comments after his Head Coach told Tony Dungy that the Patriots and Steelers were headed for “fireworks” during the regular season. Roethlisberger didn’t mind the comments from his coach though.
"Honestly, he's the head coach. He's allowed to think about whatever game or whatever elephant in the room or whatever matchups, things like that.”
A loss for the Steelers is probably less catastrophic than for the Bengals in the long run. Pittsburgh finishes out the season with the Ravens, Patriots, Texans and Browns. They will play the Ravens and Patriots in Pittsburgh as well. Meanwhile the Bengals will go on to play the Bears, Vikings, Lions and Ravens with their only home games being against the Bears and Lions.
Odds are the Bengals can’t go 4-0 through that stretch, so a loss on Monday night may be too much to come back from. They are already behind the Chargers and Bills as far as the next team in line for a Wild Card spot, so another loss would mean the Bengals would have to almost be perfect down the stretch.
The Steelers and Bengals are both taking this game very seriously, and each side knows what it means for the other. That can only intensify what has been a very emotionally fueled rivalry between these two teams, and hopefully the outcome is better for the Bengals this time around.