Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)
SERIES HISTORY: 94th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 58-35. The teams split two regular-season meetings last season, with the road team winning each time. The Steelers took the rubber match with a last-minute come-from-behind (or Bengals' graceless fall-from-in-front) 18-16 win in the AFC wild-card game. Pittsburgh leads the series 29-16 as the home team.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bad blood will continue to flow in one of the nastiest rivalries in the NFL, which reached a low point in the AFC wild-card game last season when Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict knocked Steelers WR Antonio Brown from the game with a hit to his head that also prevented him from playing in the divisional round playoff game in Denver the next week. Several players on both teams were penalized and subsequently fined for illegal hits and the NFL dished out more than $100,000 in fines for the regular-season game in Cincinnati.
The Steelers have enjoyed success running against the Bengals in the past they ran rushed for 147 yards in their opening-week win in Washington. DeAngelo Williams rushed for 105 of his 143 yards in the second half. The Bengals, meanwhile, gave up 152 yards (5.1 per carry) in their win against the New York Jets.
When the Bengals have the ball the Steelers must find a way to limit the effectiveness of quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. The Steelers have had a tough time defending Green in recent years. In the two regular-season games last season he had 17 receptions for 250 yards and two touchdowns and last week scorched NY Jets CB Darrell Revis (12 for 180, TD).
Dalton likely will use the same quick-hit, short passing game that worked so well last Sunday in the win over the Jets and run the clock to keep the ball away from an explosive Steelers' offense. Cincinnati's defense needs to find a way to pressure Roethlisberger and handle WR Antonio Brown without using an illegal KO hit.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Steelers DL vs. Bengals OL. The Bengals only allowed 20 sacks all of last season, but they gave up seven, including five in the first half, of their game against the Jets last week. The Steelers, meanwhile, failed to get a sack against the Redskins, which prompted defensive captain and defensive end Cam Heyward and coach Mike Tomlin to call out the defensive linemen and linebackers for the lack of pressure.
--Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick. Brown had eight receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. These two players have a history dating to last season when they fought in the regular-season game in Cincinnati. Brown had 20 receptions for 253 yards in three games against the Bengals last season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals DE Margus Hunt had a breakout game on Sunday at the New York Jets with a blocked kick, two passes defensed, and a tackle for loss. The 6-foot-8 native of Estonia had to fight to earn a roster spot coming out of training camp. But, his size and versatility on defense and special teams make him a valuable commodity. He had 17 blocked kicks while at Southern Methodist University, but the block on Sunday was his first in the NFL.
INJURY REPORT: Cincinnati -- Out: TE Tyler Eifert (ankle). Questionable: DT Pat Sims (ankle). Pittsburgh -- Out: CB Senquez Golson (foot), RB Roosevelt Nix (back), C Cody Wallace (knee). Questionable: LB Ryan Shazier (knee), WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder).
FAST FACTS: Bengals Geno Atkins has 41 sacks since 2011, most by an NFL DT in that time. Six were in the last eight games against Steelers. ... Bengals QB Andy Dalton won past 4 division starts and has 111.6 rating (9 TDs, 3 INTs). Owns 29 games with 100-plus rating (incl. 114 rating last week). His 51-26-1 (.660) record is best by Cincy. QB with minimum of 20 starts. ... Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is 19-7 (.731) vs. Bengals with a total of 6,032 passing yards, his most vs. any team. Last week passed for 300 yards, 3 TDs, 112.4 rating.
PREDICTION: This annual slugfest could turn into a shootout and Roethlisberger has the more lethal gun.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 42-28.