When you think of rivalry, you probably picture the Steelers.
The Steelers, like the Browns, have been in the same division as the Bengals since the merger, so they have played twice a year for the last 50 years, except in the strike-shortened 1982 season.
Since being united in the AFC North, the Steelers have been the thorn in the Bengals side. This rivalry has been tough, gritty, and sometimes just plain dirty.
Ulike the rivalry with the Browns and the Ravens, the Steelers’ series is the only one in the division that is heavily unbalanced away from the Bengals.
- Regular season series: Steelers lead 64–35
- Postseason series: Steelers lead 2-0
- Longest streak: Steelers, 10 (2015–Present)
- Current Streak: Steelers, 10
- Last five seasons: Steelers lead 10-0
The truth is, the Steelers are what fans in Cincinnati want the Bengals to be. The Steelers have six Super Bowl titles and the Rooney family is one of the most influential in football. Pittsburgh is one of the most successful franchises in NFL history, and the Bengals have to contend with them in the AFC North.
The two were placed in the AFC Central after the merger in 1970. They would go on to win four Super Bowls in the next nine years under Terry Bradshaw and the Steel Curtain defense. Naturally, the Steelers were in control of the rivalry during that dynasty.
The 1980s were the only decade that the Bengals had a winning record against the Steelers. Amidst two Super Bowl appearances, the Bengals went 13-6 against the Steel City. The best decade of Bengals football intersected with the worst decade of Steelers football.
The series, just like many other parts of the Bengals organization, still hasn’t recovered from the lean 1990s. Even when Marvin Lewis turned things around, he still couldn’t shake the Steelers. Lewis went a whopping 8-24 (.250) against the Steelers in the regular season, and lost two Wild Card round playoff games. Of course, Steelers-inflicted injuries on Bengals starting quarterbacks helped them win both playoff matchups.
It was during this era when names like Kimo von Oelhoffen and Hines Ward became unmentionable in Cincinnati, and Vontaze Burfict became public enemy number one in Pittsburgh. The rivalry between the Bengals and the Steelers became one of the most toxic rivalries in sports.
The Bengals extended their losing streak under Zac Taylor’s first season, getting swept by the Steelers for the fifth straight year.
Their final game of the 2019 was emblematic of the way the state of the two franchises in 2019. The Steelers squeaked past the Bengals in a 16-10 win in Cincinnati. The Steelers benched Mason Rudolph for Devlin Hodges, and were playing with skill position players they signed off the street. The Bengals made his final start of the season before being put back on the bench in the next game against the Jets.
The Steelers’ starting quarterback will either be an aging veteran with questionable leadership tactics, or a third-year player who has yet to impress. They missed the playoffs for the second straight year, which is the first time since they missed out for three years from 1998-2000.
The Bengals are in even more of a rebuild. But if there is a time to take back the upper hand in this rivalry, it’s now. Questions about Ben Roethlisberger’s leadership, Mike Tomlin’s coaching, and locker room drama paints an optimistic picture for the Bengals.