Week 1 Preview: Cincinnati Bengals vs Pittsburgh Steelers

Two bitter AFC North rivals clash this Sunday in Week 1 when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers. After years of domination at the hands of the Steelers, fortunes finally flipped for the Bengals in 2021, and they earned themselves a division crown for only the fifth time in the past 30 years. Now, they find themselves 7-point favorites over a Pittsburgh team in transition.

The Steelers begin their first season of the post-Ben Roethlisberger era this week. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky takes the reins, with 2022 first-round pick and heir apparent waiting in the wings. Trubisky arrives to the Steelers after four middling years with the Chicago Bears and a brief stop with the Buffalo Bills last year as a backup. The team will hope he can add an element of athleticism that can make up for an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked as the 30th best entering the 2022 NFL season. Should he be able to extend plays in a way that Roethlisberger could not last year, the Steelers have a plethora of weapons at wide receiver ready to make plays, from Pro Bowler Diontae Johnson to exciting rookie George Pickens.

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The Bengals, however, enter this season with much more stability and proven ability in their passing attack. Last year's AFC champions return former first overall pick Joe Burrow at quarterback and young superstars Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins at wide receiver to an offense that promises to be one of the league's best. The Bengals spent big to improve an offensive line that allowed Burrow to be sacked a league-high 51 times last year, and should they offer the quarterback better protection than he's seen so far in his career, the team should easily exceed last year's seventh overall ranking in points scored.

But the stars of this game aren't only on offense. For the Steelers, last year's Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt is looking to continue the dominant start to his career that has already seen him lead the league in sacks twice, and Pro Bowl regulars Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick will try to help him restore Pittsburgh's reputation as a perennial defensive powerhouse. Meanwhile, the Bengals will hope the return of safety Jessie Bates III can help continue the steady improvement the defense showed during last year's postseason run: the team allowed a mere 20.5 points per game across their four playoff games while forcing an impressive nine turnovers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals face off this Sunday in Week 1 of the NFL regular season.

Photo Credit: © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK