As the Steelers prepare to host the Bengals this week, I’ll take a look at the rivalry between these two franchises. This rivalry has always been intact, as both of these teams square off twice per year in the AFC North. However, the Ravens have traditionally been rivals to the Steelers, while the Browns and Bengals battle it out for the crown of Ohio. The Bengals and Steelers quickly changed this perspective in the 2016 AFC Wild Card game. With the Bengals looking to run out the clock and advance in the playoffs for the first time under head coach Marvin Lewis, Jeremy Hill fumbled and the Steelers recovered. As they were driving down the field, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict drilled Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the head, which resulted in a 15 yard penalty. Prior in the season, Burfict also tackled Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell and ended Bell’s season early. So, Burfict didn’t have many fans in Pittsburgh before this hit. This began the newfound rivalry. As coaches rushed to the side of Brown, Steelers assistant coach (and longtime linebacker) Joey Porter illegally went onto the field and lashed out to a few Bengals. He was able to coax a 15 yard penalty from Adam Jones. One play. One incompletion. 30 yards for the Steelers. Steelers kicker Chris Boswell kicked the game winning field goal and the Steelers advanced. The Bengals were left in shock and awe. So close but yet so far. Multiple fines were handed out for both teams and Burfict was suspended. A rivalry was born by the result of one incompletion.
But is this rivalry dead before these teams face off again? Referees have already stated players will be on a short leash. This will ensure any skirmishes after the play will be negated. In addition, Burfict and Bell exchanged DM’s on Twitter to heal any wounds between the two. Brown, on the other hand, has yet to respond to Burfict. As the teams face off this week, multiple key players will be out for both teams. These players include Tyler Eifert (ankle), Bell (suspension) and Burfict (suspension). Players from both teams have expressed they wanted all players to play for this game.
As quickly as this rivalry was born, it may have ended. With referees on short leashes and players making amends, a normal, AFC North division battle may just be in effect. For the NFL, that is all they could ask for. For NFL fans, once again, we are deprived of a true, smash mouth rivalry.