Posted: 5:55 p.m.
The Bengals open the season in Baltimore against the team their founder first coached on Paul Brown's 100th birthday - Sept. 7, 2008.
Then three weeks later they play the team that still bears his name, the Cleveland Browns.
But at this moment in their history the Bengals' biggest, meanest, and most emotional rivalry is still against the Steelers despite getting swept last year in lackluster outings that belied the importance of the games.
This series still pits two of the NFL's dwindling number of family-owned teams (the Browns and Rooneys), two of the NFL's best quarterbacks (Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger), two of the Bengals' greatest all-time quarterbacks (Palmer and Steelers quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson), and the last two Bengals head coaches that matches Marvin Lewis with a mentor in Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
But since then the Bengals are 17-20 and 1-4 against the Steelers, including two psychological killers worthy of Stephen King with a home playoff loss and a home season finale loss that knocked them out of the next playoffs.
In a sense, Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes is still racing through the Bengals with the division dominance like he did in overtime of the '06 finale. The Bengals have lost three straight against Pittsburgh and last year scored just two touchdowns against the Steelers in two games.
The big stats from '07?
On offense Cincinnati scored those two touchdowns despite being in the red zone seven times in the two games. On defense the Bengals allowed Pittsburgh to convert 15 of 25 third-downs, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger just had too many completions with 13-of-18 for 148 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
In the final early take on the AFC North, Bengals.com looks at the most important new matchups in the series that have developed during the offseason.
'07 RESULTS VS. STEELERS
The Bengals had no answers on defense, letting the offense have the ball for all of six series as running back Willie Parker ran for 126 yards in the Steelers win at PBS, 24-13, on Oct. 28.
On Dec. 2 in Pittsburgh the Bengals didn't supply much in the form of TV entertainment in a horrifyingly lax 24-10 Sunday night loss.
Yes, the weather and field were horrendous as Carson Palmer had the lowest completion percentage of his career on 17-of-44 passing and Rudi Johnson had just 34 yards on 14 carries. Which made Roethlisberger's 21-for-32 passing that much more glaring against a defense that let Hines Ward catch 11 balls, five on third down.
KEY OFFENSIVE ADDITIONS: C Justin Hartwig (Free Agent from Carolina); RB Mewelde Moore (Unrestricted Free Agent from Minnesota); RB Rashard Mendenhall (first-round pick); WR Limas Sweed (second-round pick)
KEY OFFENSIVE LOSSES: LG Alan Faneca (Unrestricted Free Agent to Jets); RB Najeh Davenport (released); WR Cedrick Wilson (released); FB Dan Krieder (unsigned).
KEY DEFENSIVE LOSSES: LOLB Clark Haggans (Unrestricted Free Agent to Arizona).
KEY DEFENSIVE ADDITIONS: None.
Hartwig is on his third team in seven seasons, but the Steelers hope his experience settles a line that has now suffered the losses of center Jeff Hartings and Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca the last two seasons.
The Bengals' biggest challenge in beating Pittsburgh dating back to Bill Cowher's hire has always been stopping the run and last year was no exception.
The Steelers didn't have much of a problem running against the Bengals in the first game last year. In 30 regular-season games against the Bengals under Cowher, six different Pittsburgh backs rushed for 100 yards 21 times and the Steelers won 17 times. New Steelers coach Mike Tomlin got Parker's 126 yards on 22 carries in his first game against Cincinnati.
QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Bengals RE Antwan Odom: Maybe the 260-pound Odom is the guy that can finally get the 240-pound Roethlisberger to the ground for sacks. The Bengals haven't been able to find a way to prevent the seemingly gigantic Roethlisberger from killing them on third down by not only shedding would-be sackers, but finding guys like Ward downfield after he does.
It was one of the deciding factors at Heinz last December when the defense did everything but get Roethlisberger to the ground. On that day the Bengals run defense that hadn't allowed a team 100 yards in the previous three games held again by giving the Steelers' second-ranked rush game just 2.9 yards per carry. The defense didn't allow a pass longer than 19 yards and the Bengals lost for the first time in three years when they forced four turnovers.
Since the Bengals sacked Roethlisberger seven times in his first PBS appearance in '04, they've got him nine times in the next seven games.
But it's probably going to be a bigger role than what any Steelers No. 2 back has had, particularly since Mendenhall is Pittsburgh's first first-round back in 20 drafts. The Steelers, who started phasing out the fullback in favor of tight ends last year, look ready to go with more two-back sets, as well as keeping one of the two fresh.
And the 5-10, 225-pound Mendenhall is a handful. Many inside the Bengals thought he was the best back on the board, giving him high grades for his brew of power and speed and affinity for getting physical.
What the Bengals need from White against the Steelers running game is to make sure plays like this don't happen again like they did in the first game last year:
Last two minutes of first half and Steelers holding 14-6 lead. Parker lines up in front of Roethlisberger in the shotgun and takes a delayed handoff for a 32-yard run on the wraparound draw to set up Parker's one-yard TD run with four seconds left in the half.
Don't look for Sweed early in the season. The Steelers, not the Bengals, have the luxury of breaking in a rookie receiver because they're pleased with Nate Washington as the No. 3.
Talk about the Bengals ready to whack guys once they reach that magic age of 30, what about the Steelers? They let two of their best performers, the 31-year-old Faneca and Haggans, walk from a veteran roster that now has 10 players 30 and over.
They have 13.
Woodley showed why the Bengals lusted after him in the second round of the '07 draft. In just 80 snaps from scrimmage last season he rung up four sacks and added two more in the playoff loss to Jacksonville. He knows how to rush the passer after playing defensive end at Michigan and has the power of a Big Ten lineman as well as some outside jets.
Steelers CB Bryant McFadden vs. Bengals WR Andre Caldwell: Or whoever the Bengals No. 3 receiver is going to be because they definitely have some holes to fill against Pittsburgh with the loss of Chris Henry.
The Steelers never figured out how to cover him. In six games against them, Henry caught 17 balls for 342 yards and a 20-yard per gouge and three touchdowns.
LILB Lawrence Timmons vs. Bengals TE Ben Utecht: The Steelers think the younger Timmons, the 6-1, 240-pound first-round pick from '07, gives them some more athleticism and explosion than Larry Foote and that he will prove to be dangerous against both the run and pass.
It would be nice to have a fullback against a guy like Timmons, but with Jeremi Johnson courting getting cut because of his conditioning and converted tight end Dan Coats unproven, the Bengals need to get some blocking from their tight ends in the running game.
That's one of the bonuses the Bengals got with Utecht, who grabbed nearly 70 balls the last two seasons while blocking on the line.
Since Rudi Johnson ran over Steelers safety Troy Polamalu for the last touchdown of the Dec. 4, 2005 victory, the Bengals have just one rushing TD vs. the Steelers in the last five games.