This is one of those situations where we can fill in the blanks opposing coaches are trying to create. The word out of Pittsburgh is that Ben Roethlisberger is questionable to play on Sunday when the Steeleres host AFC North Division rival Cincinnati. The Bengals opened their 2021 season, and second with quarterback Joe Burrow, with a win over the Minnesota Vikings. Last week, in Chicago, the Bengals lost a competitive game against the win starved Bears and on Sunday look to upend their most hated rival.
The Steelers opened with an upset victory on the road over the highly regarded Buffalo Bills, and came up short last week as a home favorite against the Las Vegas Raiders. One of these two AFC North teams are going to be 2-1 and in at least a tie for first place. The loser, doomed to the cellar in the division.
Back to the availability of Roethlisberger who is nursing a left pec injury, if it really was not known whether he was going to start at quarterback or not the books would not have posted a line on this game. That line is also set at a price that indicates Roethlisberger is playing. The guys who don’t have any competitive advantage by hiding who is going to start have clearly shown it is Roethlisberger.
Coaches, this week Mike Tomlin, like to throw doubt on who their starting quarterback is whenever possible to force their opponent to prepare for two potential starters. It is a common game of cat and mouse, but I can tell the Cincinnati staff that any time not spent on preparing for Roethlisberger is time wasted.
There could be a shift in power in the AFC North in coming years. The long struggling Cleveland Browns appear the class of the division right now, based on being very talented and coming into their own from a maturity perspective. The Baltimore Ravens are one of the favorites to win the AFC, and that leaves the Steelers and Bengals in a battle to see who can avoid the cellar.
It would be easy to throw our assumptions to the Steelers beating the Bengals on Sunday and developing into the team that challenges Baltimore and Cleveland for the Division title. But the Bengals upside appears huge when factoring in the skill level Burrow brings to the quarterback position.
He has not yet moved into the position as an NFL quarterback to dictate results, but he is loaded with talent and appears to be developing into the signal caller that could someday lead Cincinnati to a title.
When I started this story two days ago, I was prepared to select the Steelers giving the points over the Bengals. But, like a test vehicle that doesn’t make it out of the garage, this pick showed less promise as factors unfolded on Friday and Saturday morning.
The Steelers have won only one half of their first two games, that was when they upset the talented Buffalo Bills on the road after overcoming a 10-0 first half deficit. Last week, against the visiting Raiders, the Steelers were a step behind Las Vegas from start to finish.
Meanwhile, the improving Bengals upset the Minnesota Vikings to open their 2021 campaign and were competitive last week in their road loss to the Chicago Bears. Where does this plot the Bengals on our talent table?
I don’t know.
I thought the Vikings were in trouble this year, and an opening loss to the Bengals didn’t improve their prospects. But, a narrow, wide right field goal miss cost them a road win against the highly regarded Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.
Are the Vikings better than we thought? If they are, then the Bengals are better than we thought too.
Are the Steelers the team that has been outscored in three of their first four halves of football this season, or the team good enough to win on opening day against one of the AFC most talented squads?
I’m left with this. To pick this game is akin to rolling a test vehicle out of the garage and hoping it survives on the road. For me, too soon to bet on or against either of these teams, something that might change after we see tomorrow’s result.