The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals have been a thorn in each other’s sides, so Ben Roethlisberger isn’t overlooking the AFC North rival — even if the Bengals are just 5-6, while the Steelers are riding high at 9-2.
“I am 100 percent on Cincinnati and nothing else,” Roethlisberger said during his weekly radio show, via ESPN. “That is my biggest focus because these guys are going to come out to get us. They want to ruin our playoff chances. I know those guys are going to want to get after us and try to ruin our Christmas."
The Monday Night Football matchup is crucial for both teams with the Steelers trying to top the Patriots for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the Bengals still in striking distance in the wild card race. But the two teams have a history of mutual destruction.
In 2015, the heat of the rivalry between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati essentially tanked both team’s seasons. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict tore Le’Veon Bell’s MCL on the sideline in the first meeting that year, dove low at Ben Roethlisberger’s knees in the second matchup, and was at the center of a disaster in a postseason clash.
Burfict injured Roethlisberger on a sack and then concussed Antonio Brown with a helmet-to-helmet hit that drew a penalty that helped to push the Steelers into position for a game-winning field goal. The Bengals were eliminated with the kick, and the banged up Steelers lost to the Broncos a week later, 23-16, without Bell or Brown.
The Steelers and Bengals have avoided that kind of chaos in their last few meetings, but with Burfict on the field there’s always the chance for things to spiral out of control. In October, the linebacker kicked Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix on the second play of the game, earning a $12,154 fine.
Pittsburgh won that game, 29-14, notching a fifth consecutive win over the Bengals and an eighth win in the last nine meetings. The Steelers lead the all-time series 59-35 in the regular season, but Cincinnati enters the Week 13 game with some momentum after back-to-back wins.
The 6-5 Ravens and 6-5 Bills are the two teams ahead of the Bengals in the AFC Wild Card race, and Cincinnati would be back to .500 after starting the season 0-3 if the team can pull off an upset victory at home against the Steelers.
A win Monday night would be reward enough for the Bengals, but the rocky history with the Steelers means there’s a little extra incentive with the opportunity to hurt the chances of a heated rival.