Bengals set to face Steelers in opener — ‘Every game in this division has that feeling to it’

CINCINNATI — Steelers Week for the Cincinnati Bengals has a little different feeling to it this year coming off a Super Bowl appearance with expectations to be competitive again, but in some ways, nothing has changed.

The Bengals swept Pittsburgh last year en route to winning the AFC North.

Cincinnati hosts Pittsburgh in the opener Sunday at Paycor Stadium, an important first test to try to set the tone for another successful season.

“It’s always gonna be one of them games, any division game,” wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. “It’s just at the end of the day, we feel ourselves a little more. We know what we bring to the table and we know we are the top team in this division, so we gotta go out there and show it, just because what we did last year doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean we’re just gonna go out there and just win. You know, we got to go out there and leave our statement and just play together.”

Boyd created some bulletin board material for Pittsburgh last year when he said after the first matchup that the Steelers just quit during the game while the Bengals turned a seven-point halftime lead into a 24-10 win at the former Heinz Field.

ExploreDie-hard Bengals fans. How excited are you for the upcoming season?

That game set the tone for the division. Cincinnati then rolled up a 41-17 win at Baltimore and bounced back from the team’s worst loss of the season – against Cleveland in Week 11 – with an even more impressive 41-10 victory against Pittsburgh at home. The Bengals finished 4-2 in the division, losing to the Browns in the finale after already clinching the AFC North the week before and resting the starters for the playoffs.

Boyd doesn’t doubt the Steelers will be ready for this matchup, but he knows the Bengals will be.

“I mean, they’re gonna still come hard,” Boyd said. “I know I love to play Pitt because that’s where I’m from and I got fans there, my boys and family members and things like that, but they are definitely gonna come ready to play this year. We’re just gonna see how they come, but I know we’re gonna be ready.”

“Getting that first win, we got to just stack on that because if we do end up winning, ain’t no telling what can happen next game, so I think we start to build momentum as we continue to win each and every week.”

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the rivalry doesn’t feel any different coming in as the defending division champs than it did as underdogs.

“I think every game in this division has that feeling to it,” Taylor said. “There’s not added importance because they’re all important. But there is. Your easiest path to the playoffs is to be dominant in your division. And so, it starts Week 1 against a divisional team at home, so you’ve gotta take advantage of those opportunities.”

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

The Bengals have never opened against the Steelers, but the players like a chance to show right away they are still the team to beat.

“Obviously this is a division game so that’s number one,” cornerback Mike Hilton said. “For us to get back to where we were last year, we got to take care of our division. So we know they’re gonna come in ready to play and we’ve just got to match their intensity and try to get a win.”

Hilton recalled going into games early last year and feeling like the opponent viewed them as an easy win. That’s not the case anymore, and he believes this team can be even better than last year’s.

The defense returned almost all of its starters and added depth in positions of need with draft picks like free safety Dax Hill, and the offense has all of its skill players back, joined by four new offensive linemen expected to help give Joe Burrow more time in the pocket.

Taylor doesn’t want to compare this team to 2021. He would rather show why fans should be excited about 2022.

“We know how big Pittsburgh is Week 1 at home and how big a divisional game is period,” he said. “It’s important to open up with great energy, play for your fans and start the season 1-0. So that’s all that we need to be focused on right now is being the best team we can be and beat Pittsburgh in Week 1. And then we will take care of the weeks after that. But I don’t want to focus on this team compared to last year. I know these guys have put in a lot of work. They’re confident, we’re confident in them and we want them to go out and play fast and freely in Week 1 and we’re just looking to go play ball.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Steelers at Bengals, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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