It’s been awhile since the Pittsburgh Steelers won a playoff game. It’s been a very very long time since the Cincinnati Bengals have done the same. In another AFC North rivalry clash, this time in the postseason, someone’s drought is about to end.
Both teams head into the game in less than ideal conditions. The Steelers might be showcasing the best passing offense in the NFL, but they have no running game and their defense has been an issue a number of times. They’ve still won four of their last five games, lucky to make it into the playoffs after dropping a huge game against the Baltimore Ravens. In week 17 they did as expected by beating the Cleveland Browns, while getting happy news from New York state, hearing about the Buffalo Bills beating the New York Jets.
The Bengals probably won’t be playing Andy Dalton, veteran of four consecutive playoff losses, in this game. Not because they don’t want to; he had his best season in 2015, until an injury took him out, and sent the Bengals into something of a stuttering couple of months. A.J. McCarron isn’t a bad solution at quarterback, but the 4-4 finish and not being able to beat a playoff team since the first half of the season is something to worry about.
And there’s history. The Bengals have lost their last since 1990. They’ve been to the postseason six times under Marvin Lewis, but have always lost in the Wild Card round, even with the home field being theirs on three occasions. One of those games, following the 2005 season, possibly changed the course for a lot of people. The Bengals lost at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers while losing Carson Palmer to injury during the game. This changed his career and the Bengals future. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl that season, and again a few years later.
The Steelers? They’re on a three-game losing streak in the postseason. After the 2010 season they made the Super Bowl for a third time in six years, but lost to the Green Bay Packers. Ever since beating the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game five years ago, it’s been frustrating. There was the loss a year later to the Denver Broncos in overtime in the Wild Card playoffs, and last season, in another AFC North clash, they lost to the Baltimore Ravens, missing Le’Veon Bell, just like they are now.
So what’s worse? Playing with no impact-making running backs and a suspect defense but having the most productive wide receiver-quarterback tandem in the NFL, not to mention a QB with two Super Bowl rings, or being without your starting quarterback while having an edge in most other spots? Ending the drought is a lot more significant for the Bengals, obviously, but it doesn’t mean they’re in a better position to put an end to 25 years of postseason losing.