Everyone is excited for Week 1, but before we get there, let’s wrap up our series of the top five toughest Bengals opponents this year.
Every year the Steelers are one of the toughest opponents the Bengals play. That will once again be likely in 2017 as the Bengals will have two tough games against the Steelers that could very easily end up deciding the division. The Steelers were my choice over the Packers as the toughest game of the year because the Steelers appear to have a better defense and better offensive line. It will not be easy to beat the Steelers this season, but they are not unbeatable. The Bengals would show the world they mean business if they can beat the Steelers twice this season.
Weakness 1: The Steelers’ secondary
The Steelers invested a first round pick into a cornerback in the 2016 NFL Draft in Artie Burns. Burns had a decent rookie season and looks to take the next step forward, although questions remain. While the aging William Gay continues to manage the slot, the No. 2 CB spot looks questionable, but could now be filled by Joe Haden. Mike Mitchell is a decent safety but 2016 draft pick Sean Davis did not have a great rookie season and is in line to start in 2017. The Steelers have youth and potential in their secondary, but there are a lot of question marks there and it is easily one of their bigger and more exploitable weaknesses.
Weakness 2: Inside linebacker depth
The Steelers have a very talented linebacker in Ryan Shazier, who of course many Bengals fans aren’t big fans of after his hit on Giovani Bernard in the playoffs. However, he is a very talented linebacker and completely changes the Steelers’ defense with his speed. However, he has had occasional struggles with injury and with the Steelers having high expectations for the season, they need him to stay healthy. The Steelers don’t have much depth behind Shazier so they are relying on him to if he is unable to stay healthy it would be a big blow to the Steelers’ defense.
Strength 1: Offensive line
The Steelers’ offensive line is one of the best in the league and it returns all five of its starters from last season. There is no real weakness on the line after Alejandro Villenueva managed to figure it all out during the 2016 season. They have two talented guards and one of the best centers in the league in Maurkice Pouncey. This offensive line gives Roethlisberger all the time he needs and gives running back Le’Veon Bell massive running lanes.
Strength 2: Offensive weapons
The Steelers have one of the best sets of weapons in the NFL. They don’t have a dominant tight end, but it doesn’t really matter when you look at all the other weapons they possess. They have one of the top three receivers in the league in Antonio Brown. One of the top two running backs in the league in Le’Veon Bell and they have returning very talented No. 2 receiver in Martavis Bryant, who was suspended for all of last season. When he isn’t on the field he is a big help for the Steelers’ offense.
1 player to watch: Martavis Bryant
I like to pick someone other than the obvious superstars for the player to watch. Bryant is not even the No. 1 WR, but he is someone fans and the Bengals need to watch for. He is a fantastic vertical threat with his size and speed combination. He also seems to have a new dedication to the sport and he will be tough to stop if the Bengals don’t plan for his specific skill set.
The Steelers are always one of the toughest matchups of the year for the Bengals and that continues this year. However, the Bengals should be able to at least split the series. If the Bengals can split the series, I think they have decent odds of winning the division and securing home field advantage for the playoffs. These will be two of the key games of the season and hopefully the Bengals show the league and the Steelers that they mean business.