I have to confess that there were a lot of distractions this week that kept my focus off whatever off-field drama the Steelers were enduring during the long week leading up to Cincinnati. Not the least of which were the NHL negotiations, with the league tossing out an offer that I knew was meant to, on its face, convince the fan base (I gather I’m not the only one starting to get vocal) that the owners are more than reasonable and if we don’t get a full season, it’s the players’ fault. Yet, some of the noise from the Steelers filtered through, enough to make me think the Bengals are licking their chops as the Steelers prepare for their first divisional match-up, a dreaded road game. Salivate all you want to, here are my reasons why I think the Steelers are going to win:
• For much the same reason that I worried about the Oakland game, Cincinnati fans need to worry about us. The Steelers are a better team than Oakland overall, and their pride is wounded. They roll into town with a chip on their shoulder the size of the Rock of Gibraltar, determined to prove they can win on the road and knowing that losing a division battle would be deadly.
• However, chances are the Bengals will be feeling a little cocky, particularly after taking a look at the injury list for the Steelers. I admit that gives me pause. Five players have been ruled out for tomorrow’s game. Among them: Mendenhall and Redman. But before you think that spells absolute doom for the Steelers, remember that they have not been a particularly strong run team this year. Candidly, I would worry more if the injury list read Wallace and Brown. If you’re over-confident, you are vulnerable to being shocked.
• Ben Roethlisberger rolled his ankle in practice this week. How in heaven’s name can I be touting that as a sign we will win, you ask? Because I have come to the conclusion that Big Ben, whether he’s fully aware he does this or not, likes to say he’s banged up and then come out and play a great game, causing all of us to marvel at his toughness (and, truth be told, it does give him a built-in excuse if he lays an egg, like the San Francisco game last year). To his credit, I did see a locker room interview on the local news where he genuinely seemed to be downplaying the injury and wanting to move off the subject, which is not what I generally think of him. Generally, I tend to think he milks the news of his injuries for full effect. The Bengals probably know this and won’t let it fool them too much, but when one is looking for signs and trends to allow for some optimism, you take what you can get.
• Mark my words, it will almost feel like a home game for this road team. I noticed ticket prices went up as the week went along, but early on I was seeing tickets on the market for below face value, meaning the locals aren’t that interested. Therefore, the stage is set for there to be a lot of Steeler fans in that stadium. If it were a day game, we would probably take the stadium over, but there are probably some fans, such as myself, who couldn’t get Monday off and will stay at home to watch it. With that in mind, still watch the stands and marvel that a) the Bengal organization has not won over their own fan base and b) how well the Steeler Nation travels.
• Granted, to a certain extent this is also a must-win game for the Bengals. They have dropped two in a row, including last week against the Browns. Think about that: the previously winless Browns. So, one can make the argument that they will be fired up and ready to go to prove themselves. I just don’t think they will. My thought, with no real hard cold facts to back this up, is that last week saw the beginning of the end of the Bengals season.
• I would imagine the Steelers are seeing the door of opportunity open a little. With a season ending injury to Ray Lewis, the Ravens defense, which was showing signs of age anyway, is vulnerable. If the Steelers can begin to turn their season around right here and now, all these early struggles can be overcome. I expect them to take advantage of the second chance that they are getting.
• Finally, Ike Taylor is really mad. He has something to prove, not just to the other teams in the league, but to all of us. He’s been critical of us being critical of him. Want to keep us quiet? Come out and play well. That’s really the only way. My guess is that we will see a marked improvement in his play and the defense as a whole – even without Troy.