About the Opponent:
Last season, quarterback Andy Dalton injured his right thumb in the rubber match versus Pittsburgh and was lost for the remainder of the season.
Cincinnati proved, however, that they have a leg up on the Steelers (and most teams in the NFL) at the backup quarterback spot with AJ McCarron. McCarron filled in more than adequately for Dalton during the team's run to the playoffs, passing for 854 yards and 6 touchdowns in their final three regular season games.
According to head coach Marvin Lewis, McCarron is "mature and handled the situation...I'm proud of him, and proud of what he did, and I know he'll be nothing but better next season ... and that's good for us."
Despite McCarron's success and talent, the Steelers will likely face starter Andy Dalton in the home opener. Dalton has compiled just over 18,000 yards, and 124 touchdowns in five seasons. Not bad numbers. He also gives the Bengals the stability at quarterback they haven't had since Carson Palmer was in his prime.
This offseason, the Bengals lost some firepower in their receiving corps with the defections of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Yet, they still have Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green, both of whom pose matchup problems for Pittsburgh and often burn them for a big play or two whenever the two teams meet. The Bengals also added former Pitt wideout Tyler Boyd in the draft to offset the loss of Jones and Sanu. He'll be another dangerous receiver for Dalton to target.
Defensively, the Bengals bolstered their secondary by re-signing cornerback Adam Jones and drafting William Jackson III in the first round (much to the chagrin of Steelers fans who were expecting the team to land the talented corner from Houston). Along with Dre Kirkpatrick and 2014's first round pick, Darqueze Dennard, the Bengals appear to have a solid mix of youth and experience in the defensive backfield.
They've also taken care of business in other defensive areas by re-signing safety George Iloka and outside linebacker Vincent Rey. They also added linebacker Carlos Dansby in free agency. As it turns out, the only defensive starters the team lost were Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall, both of whom are over 30 years old.
One thing going for the Steelers in the first matchup is that the Bengals will be minus Vontaze Burfict, who will be serving the second game of a three game suspension. This should help the Steelers offense a bit, as Burfict totaled 22 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception during the three games in which he faced them.
The Bottom Line:
The Steelers have won five of the past six meetings between the two teams, and the last time the Bengals swept the season series was in 2009 (1998 before that). Given those numbers, there's a good chance that the Steelers will, at least, achieve a split this season. However, the Bengals shouldn't be underestimated and are more than capable of sweeping both games. They've got plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball, plus they have an intense hatred for the black and gold and motivation to beat them. Of course, that was the Bengals' downfall in the playoffs: their failure to contain their emotions. If the Steelers can avoid mistakes and keep their own emotions in check, they should be in good shape.
2016 Steelers Schedule
Week 1: at the Washington Redskins