Week 17’s showdown against the Green Bay Packers could be a defining moment for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
2. New England Patriots
3. Oakland Raiders
4. Indianapolis Colts
5. Cincinnati Bengals
6. Baltimore Ravens
AFC Wild Card Round
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts
As dysfunctional as the Cincinnati Bengals are, not even they can lose in the Wild Card round in six consecutive years; especially since they are much better than the Indianapolis Colts.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Oakland Raiders
The fans in the Bay Area have waited a very long time to see an Oakland Raiders playoff game and they wont be disappointed.
AFC Divisional Playoffs
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Bengals will finally be happy to get the playoff monkey off of their backs, but their big brothers from the AFC North in the Pittsburgh Steelers want to show them that they are still in charge.
Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots
The Raiders are happy to win a playoff game, and the battle tested New England Patriots will be too much for them.
AFC Championship Game
New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been on a mission to put “Deflategate” behind him and get back to the Super Bowl.
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Dallas Cowboys
5. Arizona Cardinals
6. Minnesota Vikings
NFC Wild Card Round
Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers
The road to a consecutive Super Bowl berth for the Carolina Panthers begins with a home victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Arizona Cardinals could be a team on a mission as they steamroll the Dallas Cowboys.
NFC Divisional Playoffs
Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers
In a battle of MVP quarterbacks in Cam Newton of the Panthers, and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, the legs of running back Eddie Lacy will lead Green Bay to the NFC Championship Game.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks
The Cards-Seahawks rivalry is quickly becoming one of the best in the NFL. And for the Cardinals, they are definitely one team that isn’t afraid to travel to Seattle and seek a victory.
NFC Championship Game
Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers
With the frozen mystique of football in Green Bay being a thing of the past, the Cardinals have what it takes to get a victory there and reach the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history.
Super Bowl Bowl 51-NRG Stadium-Houston, Texas
New England Patriots vs. Arizona Cardinals
These two teams began the year against each other, and it’s only fitting that they’ll finish they year on the gridiron. But the Patriots will find a way to win their fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
X-Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
When you think of the history of the National Football League, you can’t go that long without recognizing the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have been an NFL franchise since 1933, and since 1972, Pittsburgh has only had seven losing seasons which is remarkable. Some other outstanding traits that are displayed by the Steelers organization is that they preach patience and consistency with their head coaches as they’ve only employed three head coaches since 1969, which is a far cry from the majority of the other franchises around the NFL where there is constant turn over at the head coaching position. Mike Tomlin set to begin his 10th year as the Steelers head coach, and like his two predecessors in Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, he has led Pittsburgh to at least one Super Bowl Championship. The last two years have seen Tomlin get the Steelers to the playoffs, but he has a team in 2016 that is more than capable of adding a seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions to the display case in Western Pennsylvania.
As long as the Steelers can keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger healthy, they have a legitimate shot of winning it all. Roethlisberger has been the Steelers starting quarterback since 2004, and all he has done is win while displaying a toughness that the folks in Western Pennsylvania can relate to. At the age of 34, Roethlisberger isn’t showing any signs of slowing down while he still can throw one of the best deep balls in the National Football League. Last year with Roethlisberger at the helm, the Steelers had the third ranked offense in the NFL, and you can expect more of the same in 2016.
Very rapidly Antonio Brown has become one of the better wide receivers in football. In the last three years Brown has gained nearly 5,000 yards of receiving yards and he has become Roethlisberger’s most dependable target in the process. The Steelers will miss the contributions of wide receiver Martavis Bryant who will have to sit out the entire 2016 National Football League season after a failed drug test, and tight end Heat Miler who retired after spending his entire 11-year career in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers are hopeful that wide receivers Sammie Coates, Markus Wheaton and Darius Heyward-Bay can step up to make contributions in the passing game to offset the losses of Bryant and Miller.
The Steelers are also hopeful to have a healthy pair of running backs in Le’Veon Bell and De’Angelo Williams. Last year injuries limited Bell to just six games and he’ll miss the first three games of 2016 after being suspended by the National Football League due to the fact that he missed a drug test. But the Steelers need the combo of Williams and Bell in the backfield as each are solid at picking up the blitz for Roethlisberger, while also having the knack to be receivers in the passing game.
The Steelers should once again have one of the better offensive lines in the business as long as center Maurkice Pouncey and guard David DeCastro can remain healthy as this unit has a high level of physicality attached to them.
As the Steelers defense is set to begin its second year under defensive coordinator Keith Butler, you can expect the term “Blitzburgh” to once again be used to describe this unit. Last year the Steelers amassed 48 sacks which was third in the National Football League, and with the likes of inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and veteran outside linebacker James Harrison back on the scene, Pittsburgh is ready to show that they are still the bullies of the AFC North.
As a rookie in 2015, outside linebacker Bud Dupree totaled 4 sacks, but if he is able to become the pass rusher that the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him, their defense could become very stingy. Rookie inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich was the Steelers seventh-round pick this year and after being an All-American last year at Temple, his strong work ethic and determination will be a welcomed sight to Pittsburgh’s blue-collar work ethic.
On the Steelers defensive line, defensive end Cam Heyward is turning into a star and fellow defensive end Stephon Tuitt is no slouch either as ability to rush the passer and stop the run opens up Pittsburgh’s linebackers to make more plays.
The Steelers have a chance to make a statement in Week 2 when they host the Cincinnati Bengals as there is no love lost between these two AFC North rivals; especially after last season’s wild card game which was won by Pittsburgh. Overall four of the Steelers first five games in 2016 are against teams that finished last season with winning records. But the Steelers chances to win the AFC North will come down to their final three games of the season as they’ll face the Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns in consecutive weeks.
Y-Cincinnati Bengals 11-5
The last five National Football League seasons have seen the Cincinnati Bengals reach the playoffs. But each time the Bengals have been unable to win a playoff game. Last year’s playoff loss for the Bengals stung more than the others as they had the Pittsburgh Steelers on the ropes until they came apart at the seams. A fumble by Bengals Jeremy Hill late in the contest gave the Steelers life. And when Pittsburgh got the ball back, Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones made sure that they did their part in helping the Steelers win. The Bengals began last season with a record of 8-0 as they finished the regular season with a record of 12-4 for their best mark since 1988 which marked their last trip to the Super Bowl. However as good as the Bengals were in 2015, what does head coach Marvin Lewis have up his sleeve to motivate this team to not only make the postseason for a sixth consecutive year, but to also win their first playoff game since January 1991?
In each of the last five years Andy Dalton has been the Bengals starting quarterback and he has a career record of 50-26-1. But Dalton’s career playoff record of 0-4 record, along with the fact that he typically comes up short when the Bengals need him the most have made him a lightning rod for controversy in the Queen City.
Last December, Dalton suffered a fractured thumb which put him on the shelf for the rest of the season as he is looking to get back on track here in 2016. But Dalton will miss the guidance of his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson who is now the head coach of the Cleveland Browns as former quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese will be calling the plays in Cincinnati.
Behind a strong offensive line that features left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals have a solid running game with their tandem of running backs in Hill and Giovanni Bernard. And if Bernard and Hill can combined to get 400 carries this season, it should symbolize another trip to the postseason for the Bengals.
In the past I have talked about the need for Dalton to not play “hero ball” in order to help the Bengals win games. And although that wide receiver A.J. Green is one of the better wide receivers in the National Football League, Dalton shouldn’t try to force feed him the football, while another receiver such as tight end Tyler Eifert needs to step up and become a consistent option for Cincinnati in the passing game.
After the Bengals finished 2015 11th in total defense, there’s nothing that can stop them from being a top-five unit this season except themselves as they have a wealth of talent. The Bengals can rush the passer with defensive end Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, while the interior of Cincinnati’s defensive line is stout with defensive tackles Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and Pat Sims. There’s plenty of talent in the Bengals linebacking unit with Burfict, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, and outside linebacker Vincent Rey, while picking up a veteran middle linebacker in Karlos Dansby could help the Bengals finally get over the hump and win a playoff game. In the secondary, the Bengals can cover with the likes of veteran cornerbacks Adam Jones and Kirkpatrick, but it just a matter of this unit staying focused under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
The schedule makers were not kind to the Bengals as they’ll begin the upcoming season with consecutive road games against the New York Jets and Steelers, while they will have their home opener against the Denver Broncos who are the defending Super Bowl Champions. And if the Bengals get off to a slow start, they will be fighting an uphill battle in the AFC North against the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens to win the division.
Y-Baltimore Ravens 10-6
You have to go back to the 2005 National Football League season to find the last time that the Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons. Injuries derailed the Ravens chances in 2015 as they went 5-11. And for Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, they’ve been hard at work this off-season to get Baltimore back on track in the AFC North.
Last year marked the first time in the National Football League career of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco that he missed time due to an injury. In Week 11, Flacco suffered a torn ACL which put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season. As the Ravens starting quarterback, Flacco has a career record of 75-47 while also sporting a 10-5 mark in the postseason which includes leading Baltimore to a Super Bowl Title. Flacco has been rehabbing from his knee injury, and the Ravens are going to need him to be fully healthy when they take the field in September.
Aside from Flacco, the Ravens must get more continuity from their rushing attack that was ranked 26th in the National Football League last season. Baltimore’s leading rusher in 2015 was veteran running back Justin Forsett with just 641 which isn’t going to get it done in the NFL; even though that the league is now very pass happy.
Injuries also hurt the Ravens offensive line last year as they were unable to provide protection for Flacco or open up holes in the running game. The Ravens would use the sixth overall pick of the 2016 National Football League Draft on offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley who has the potential to be an anchor on the offensive line for the coming years. The Ravens also have veterans on the line in the form of center Jeremy Zuttah and guard Marshal Yanda that will need to find cohesion early in order to provide blocking the skills players in Baltimore’s offense.
Last year was supposed to be wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.’s final hurrah in the National Football League. But after Smith suffered an Achilles injury which abruptly ended his campaign, he is back for one more go at it in 2016. Smith has been one of the better pass catchers of this era as he has the potential this season to become just the sixth player in National Football League history to record 15,000 receiving yards.
The Ravens were eighth in total defense in 2015, but the unit’s issues began in Week 1 when outside linebacker Terrell Suggs suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon which robbed Baltimore of their defensive leader. Suggs is back for the upcoming season, and the Ravens have picked up former San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle, but will there be enough play makers on this side of the football to get Baltimore back to the post season?
In recent years punter Sam Koch and place kicker Justin Tucker have been vital to the Ravens success. Last year Koch had a net average of 42.9 as his kicks can change field position, while Tucker is one of the better field goal kickers from within 50 yards. And special teams will be a huge factor for the Ravens; especially when the temperature begins to drop in the months of November and December.
If the Ravens want to be a playoff team in 2016, they must take care of business in the first half of the season as only one of their first seven opponents made the playoffs last year. The Ravens last two games of the season will be on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals as Baltimore will have its work cut to make the playoffs in January.
Cleveland Browns 5-11
It’s the same old song for the Cleveland Browns as they are beginning another National Football League season with a term attached to the them which is “starting over”. Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, they have had three different owners, eight general managers, nine head coaches, and they are working on their 25th different starting quarterback. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam didn’t help himself in his most recent front office hires as he hired a new team president in Paul DePodesta and general manager Sashi Brown. Neither man has a football background as DePodesta has worked in the front offices of Major League Baseball franchises, while Brown has a law background.
At least the Browns hired a football guy as their next head coach in former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson. In one season with the Raiders, Jackson posted a record of 8-8 as he was charged with changing the culture there. And that is exactly what Jackson is attempting to do with the Browns as they’ve only had two winning seasons since 1999.
As the Browns are coming off of a 3-13 season, the only way for them to go is up. The Browns resisted selecting a quarterback early on during the 2016 National Football League Draft and instead of drafting a quarterback early on in the proceedings, they instead decided to try their hand at a reclamation project.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III was the second overall pick of the 2012 National Football League Draft by the Washington Redskins and he took the league by storm. In 2012, Griffin became the NFL’s Rookie of the Year as he helped the Redskins win the NFC East. But a knee injury towards the end of the 2012 season, along with missing the entire training camp for the following campaign put Griffin behind the eight ball. And when Jay Gruden became the Redskins head coach last year, he never warmed up to Griffin being his starting quarterback which made him expendable. The Redskins would part ways with Griffin this off-season and he is looking to re-kindle some of the magic from 2012 now with the Browns.
Jackson has been known to develop quarterbacks and the main thing that Griffin needs to work on is his pocket awareness, but he will be a welcome sight in Cleveland after the Browns parted with another quarterback from the State of Texas this off-season in Johnny Manziel.
Last year the Browns were 25th in total offense in the National Football League and they are in need of more consistency. The Browns still have nine-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle in Joe Thomas anchoring their offensive line, but he is becoming disgruntled with the team’s inability to win. Longtime Browns center Alex Mack left this off-season to join the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland is hopeful the center Cameron Erving who was a first-round choice of the team in 2015 is ready to fill the void.
With Jackson running the show in Cleveland, the team is in the process of a roster overhaul which means that there is a competition at nearly every position and somebody has to step up and become a play maker on offense.
The same can be said on defense where the Browns need to be more aggressive under first-year defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The Browns must find a way to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with their front seven as their 29 sacks in 2015 were 28th in the National Football League.
Jackson is attempting to change the culture for the Browns and he will spend 2016 simply weeding out the guys that don’t fit his system. But hopefully Jackson gets the chance to establish himself with the Browns as they don’t have patience with their head coaches.
Y-Clinched Wild Card
First Round Pick: William Jackson III-Cornerback-Houston
Best Pick: Round Two-Tyler Boyd-Wide Receiver-Pittsburgh
Although that the Cincinnati Bengals have failed to win a playoff game since 1991, they have done a solid job of stockpiling talent under head coach Marvin Lewis at the National Football League Draft, and 2016 was no different.
The Bengals were getting older in the secondary and thus they used their first-round pick of the draft on Houston Cougars cornerback William Jackson III. Jackson III comes to the Bengals as a two-time, first-team All-American Athletic Conference member. And last year at Houston, Jackson III led the Cougars in interceptions with 5, while he wasn’t afraid to mix it up as he tallied 43 tackles which was ninth on the team.
In the second round, the Bengals selected Pittsburgh Panthers wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Coming into the 2015 college football season, Boyd was expected to be a big-time contributor at Pittsburgh, but he was slowed by injuries which saw him fall in the second round. However Boyd does have exceptional ball skills, and at 6’2″, he can be a matchup problem for opposing defensive backs.
The fourth round would see Cincinnati select Baylor Bears defensive tackle Andrew Billings. Like Boyd, Billings watched himself slip at the National Football League Draft, but he did go to a team in the Bengals where he could be a rotational player on their defensive line as a rookie.
First Round Pick: Artie Burns-Cornerback-Miami
Best Pick: Round Seven-Tyler Matakevich-Outside Linebacker-Temple
Since 1969, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been the best team in the National Football League as far as finding and drafting talent which is evident by their six Super Bowl Titles over that stretch being that it is the most in the league. The Steelers entered the 2016 NFL Draft owning the 25th overall pick which they used on Miami Hurricanes cornerback Artie Burns.
The Steelers need help in their secondary, and although that Burns wasn’t the player that they were seeking at that position, he is still a guy that fits into the team’s mold as he has possesses solid ball skills which was highlighted by him having 6 interceptions last year at Miami. At 6’0″, Burns has good size which will give him the chance to match up with some of the bigger wide receivers that the AFC North has, while he’ll get a workout everyday in practice as he faces the likes of wide receiver Antonio Brown.
The Steelers kept the secondary theme going in the second round where they selected Maryland Terrapins safety Sean Davis. Unlike Burns, the Steelers like Davis’ range and physicality as his 88 tackles were second on Maryland’s team in 2015. And since the retirement of Troy Polamalu in 2014, the Steelers have missed having a player at safety that plays like a linebacker.
In the sixth round, the Steelers might have found themselves another player in the mode of Brown when they selected Houston Cougars wide receiver DeMarcus Ayers. At 5’9″, 182 lbs., Ayers is a burner that knows how to get in and out of breaks as any defensive back that is covering him needs to make sure that his ankle are taped.
And in the final round of the National Football League Draft, the Steelers found themselves a good old-fashioned football player in Temple Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich fits the mold of what the Steelers seek from their linebackers as his grit and toughness are a throwback to the days of players such as Jack Lambert. Last year at Temple, Matakevich recorded 138 tackles while taking home the Bednarik and the Bronko Nagurski Awards for his defensive prowess as it won’t take him that long to find himself on the field making plays for the Steelers.
First Round Pick: Ronnie Stanley-Offensive Tackle-Notre Dame
Best Pick: Ronnie Stanley
Like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens know a thing or two about hitting on their selections at the National Football League Draft. Ozzie Newsome has been the only general manager that the Ravens have ever employed in their 21-year history and he has a keen eye for talent; especially in finding impact players early on in the draft.
2016 was no different for the Ravens as their first-round pick was used on Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. Stanley comes to the Ravens as an All-American and he’ll be expected to anchor Baltimore’s offensive line for the next decade.
But the Ravens most intriguing pick came last Saturday in the sixth round when they selected Navy Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds comes to the Ravens as a very decorated player as he set an NCAA record with 88 career rushing touchdowns while he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting last year which is the highest that a Naval cadet has finished since Roger Staubach in 1963. Reynolds will be used as a running back in the National Football League, and the Navy could make it
possible for him to play this year with a special waiver.
First Round Pick: Corey Coleman-Wide Receiver-Baylor
Best Pick: Round Three-Carl Nassib-Defensive End-Penn State
One way to describe the Cleveland Browns at the 2016 National Football League Draft was that they were active. The Browns drafted 14 players and unlike in year’s past, they appear to have found some impact players.
The Browns used their first-round pick on Baylor Bears wide receiver Corey Coleman. Coleman comes to the Browns after winning the Biletnikoff Award winner last year as the nation’s top wide receiver, and Cleveland is hopeful that they won’t get burned again that position like they have in year’s past.
The Browns then turned to the trenches where they selected Oklahoma State Cowboys defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Carl Nassib. Ogbah had 13 sacks last year at Oklahoma State and he should be able to come in and immediately contribute while Nassib has a relentless motor that will allow him to make plays and win over the folks in the “Dawg Pound”.
The Browns used a third-round choice on Auburn Tigers offensive tackle Shon Coleman. Coleman comes to the National Football League as a 24-year old rookie, and he has had his fair share of issues as medical issues were attempting to derail his collegiate career. But now Coleman has overcome all of that as his determination is a testament of the new direction that the Browns are attempting to go in. Also in the third round, Cleveland found Southern California Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler who will push quarterback Robert Griffin III for reps in training camp as he is an accurate signal caller along with having terrific pocket awareness.
In the seventh round, the Browns found an absolute steal in Arizona Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright III. In 2014, Wright was the Pac-12 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and if he had been eligible for the draft in 2015, he would have been a top-10 choice. But Wright was only a sophomore, and in 2015, a knee injury slowed him down. However the Browns found themselves an absolute football player in Wright that is now healthy and he should be a starter come Week 1 of the regular season.
The Cincinnati Bengals have been a professional football franchise for nearly 50 years. The Bengals came into existence in 1968 as an expansion franchise in the American Football League before joining the National Football League in 1970 during the merger. The Bengals were built under the watchful eye of Paul Brown who was their co-founder and first head coach. Brown coached the Bengals during their first eight seasons which was highlighted by three playoff appearances along with winning the first ever AFC Central Title in 1970. But under Brown, the Bengals were never able to win a playoff game which would be a harbinger of things to come years later for this franchise. When Brown retired from coaching in 1975 to concentrate on being the Bengals team president, he made a decision that would shape his franchise for years to come. Brown hand picked Bill “Tiger” Johnson to succeed him as the Bengals head coach over the young and upstart Bill Walsh. Johnson would resign midway through the 1978 National Football League season after the Bengals 0-5 start while Walsh would take over as the head coach the San Francisco 49ers in 1979 and he would lead them to three Super Bowl Championships with two of those victories coming over the Bengals.
On January 6, 1991, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Houston Oilers 41-14 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. And when the Bengals would go on to lose to the Los Angeles Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoffs the following week, little did they know of the coming series of events that were waiting for them.
For the remainder of the 1990’s, the Bengals would not record a winning season which was highlighted by a slew of draft busts.
Marvin Lewis would be hired as the Bengals head coach in 2003, and after a pair of 8-8 seasons, he would lead Cincinnati to the AFC North Title in 2005. But in the AFC Wild Card Game, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer would suffer a torn ACL early in the first quarter and Cincinnati would lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even it defeat that day it wasn’t looked at as a big thing for the Bengals as they were a young team and they would be back soon. After three subpar seasons, the Bengals would once again win the AFC North in 2009; only to lose to the New York Jets in the AFC Wild Card Game. After parting with Palmer after the 2010 National Football League season, the Bengals would draft quarterback Andy Dalton in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Dalton became the Bengals starting quarterback from his first day on the job and he helped Cincy reach the postseason each season with him under center. But come January, the Bengals continued to be one-and-done in the postseason.
This season the Bengals began by winning their first eight games. The Bengals were winning close games against contenders such as the Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, and all of a sudden they didn’t appear to be the same old Bungles. The Bengals were 10-2 when they welcomed the Steelers to Cincinnati for a Week 14 contest as they were looking to wrap up the AFC North Title. In that game Dalton would suffer a broken thumb that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Dalton would be replaced by backup quarterback AJ McCarron who went 2-1 as a starter. The Bengals would finish the regular season with a record of 12-4 which would mark their best season since their last AFC Championship in 1988, but after a losing a Week 16 affair to the Denver Broncos, Cincinnati would miss out on earning a first-round bye,
With McCarron under center, the Bengals would find themselves hosting the Steelers this past Saturday night in the AFC Wild Card Game. For the first three quarters of the game, the Steelers would rack up yardage on offense, but they were only able to amass a 15-0 lead. The Bengals offense finally woke up in the fourth quarter. The Bengals would score 10 points to cut the deficit to five and they would get the football back with under four minutes left in the game. McCarron would lead the Bengals on a 45-yard drive that culminated when he found wide receiver A.J. Green for a 25-yard touchdown pass for their first lead of the night at 16-15 with just under two minutes remaining.
On the Steelers ensuing drive, backup quarterback Landry Jones was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict which actually spelled the beginning of the end for Cincinnati. Inexplicably, Burfict ran off of the field towards the Bengals locker room as if to say that the game was over. However the Steelers had all three of their timeouts remaining along with a plethora of time. And on the very next play, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill fumbled the football as he was stripped by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. The Steelers would regain possession of the football with an injured quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger leading them. Roethlisberger was attempting to drive the Steelers into field goal range for the potential game-winning score when he and Pittsburgh received a huge assist from the Bengals.
With 18 seconds remaining in the game, Burfict was flagged for a personal foul penalty for a hit to the helmet of Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. The hit would then put the Steelers into field goal range and it would get worse for the Bengals when cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct foul. In all the Steelers were the beneficiaries of 30 yards without having to run a play due to the stupidity and selfishness of the Bengals. Steelers kicker Chris Boswell would connect on a 35-yard field goal which would send Pittsburgh to the AFC Divisional Playoffs while the Bengals were left to wallow in their own futility. And just when it appeared that the Bengals were ready to cast themselves out of their long and storied reputation of shooting themselves in the foot, they simply could not handle success.
There are some people that are calling for Lewis to be fired as he is now 0-7 in the playoffs as the Bengals head coach. And although that Bengals owner Mike Brown won’t fire Lewis, a new head coach wouldn’t make a difference in Cincinnati as there are issues within the organization.
Even when the Bengals were able to stop the losing that haunted them in the 1990’s, they were done in during the 2000’s by players who had character issues as this team would see a different player almost every week being arrested by law enforcement officials. It got so bad for the Bengals that National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell paid the team a visit to encourage them to get their act together as they were embarrassing the league. And even though that the Bengals continue to shed this image, it was once again on display when they lost to the Steelers.
The Bengals were flagged with several unsportsmanlike conduct penalties during their loss to the Steelers which scream of undisciplined football, and more than ever the month of January is where teams cannot have selfish players making selfish plays if they want to win.
Make no mistake about it that the Bengals arguably have one of the most talented teams in the National Football League, but they are lacking leadership on both sides of the ball along with having an owner in Brown that it isn’t fully committed to winning.
Led by Lewis, the Bengals will be back at it next season as they will be seeking their sixth consecutive playoff appearance while they are still searching for their first postseason victory since both the Rams and Raiders called Los Angeles home. But unless their is a culture change from within the Bengals organization that includes an overall concentration on winning, this will continue to be a team that will befuddle anyone who follows them.