Joe Burrow and the rest of the Cincinnati Bengals have a chance to accomplish a rare feat when they head to Pittsburgh for Sunday's AFC North division showdown. The Bengals are trying to defeat the Steelers for a second consecutive time for just the third time this century. Cincinnati swept its season series with Pittsburgh back in 2009 en route to a division title. In 2012, the Bengals defeated the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 16 before again defeating the Steelers at home in Week 2 of the 2013 season.
While the games between the two teams intensified as the 2010s continued, the Steelers dominated the series for the remainder of the decade. Pittsburgh went 13-1 against Cincinnati during their final 14 meetings of the decade that included an 18-16 win in the 2015 wild card round. Pittsburgh won its 11th consecutive game over Cincinnati in Week 10 of last season before the Bengals finally ended their drought with a 27-17 win over the Steelers in Week 15.
Safety Vonn Bell set the tone of that game early by drilling Pittsburgh receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and causing a fumble. The hit left an enduring impact on then-Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton, who signed a multi-year deal with the Bengals this offseason.
"(The Bengals) sent a message to us that night," Hilton said this week, via Jay Morrison of The Athletic. "I feel like we're going to carry that into Pittsburgh and hopefully come out with the win."
Both teams are 1-1 following disappointing Week 2 losses. After an impressive road victory over the Bills in Week 1, the Steelers dropped their home opener against Derek Carr and the Raiders last Sunday. Cincinnati, following a Week 1 overtime win over the visiting Vikings, suffered its first loss of 2021 last Sunday in Chicago despite two late touchdown passes from Burrow.
Speaking of Burrow, the 2020 first overall pick has continued to receive subpar protection in his second season. Burrow has already been sacked 10 times this season after being taken down 32 times in 10 games in 2020. Pittsburgh has also had issues protecting Ben Roethlisberger, as the 18-year veteran was hit 10 times in last Sunday's loss to the Raiders. Protecting their quarterback is surely near the top of each team's priority list as they prepare for Sunday's game.
For Burrow, a win over the Steelers on Sunday would be his first victory over a division opponent. Burrow will certainly look to exploit a Pittsburgh secondary that allowed Carr to throw for 382 yards and two touchdowns, which included a 61-yard scoring strike to Henry Ruggs III. The Steelers also endured several prominent defensive injuries in that game, including outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, inside linebacker Devin Bush and cornerback Joe Haden. Burrow has one of the league's better receiving trios at his disposal in Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and rookie Ja'Marr Chase. After a rocky preseason, Chase has caught touchdowns in each of his first two regular season games.
A win on Sunday would also reinforce the growing narrative of a Steelers decline. That would surely be good news for a Bengals team hoping to finally climb out of the proverbial doghouse after finishing last in the North each of the past three years.
"We want to have early success this season to help ourselves build momentum," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said earlier this week. "A road win versus a divisional team does a lot that way. And then you've gotta just win games in this division. That's one thing that we have got to do a better job of. It starts this week against Pittsburgh. Again, our guys are excited. This is an important one. It is Pittsburgh. It's a divisional game. It's a road game. We got a lot of work in front of us over these next four days to get ready."
Will Joe Burrow come back healthy this season? Can Ja'Marr Chase live up to the hype? Download the CBS Sports app to see the latest news from our team of football experts, player projections, and more. If you already have the app, set the Bengals as your favorite team to get up-to-the-minute headlines.