What Would a Loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Mean for the Cincinnati Bengals?

Matt Gray@mattkgrayContributor IDecember 22, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 21: LaMarr Woodley #56 and Larry Foote #50 of the Pittsburgh Steelers combine to make a tackle against Jermaine Gresham #84 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the game at Paul Brown Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals meet the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday with a wild-card spot on the line. 

It's shaping up to be a more even contest than in recent meetings as the Steelers nurse a number of injuries.

The Bengals have an opportunity to grab back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since the year 3 A.D.

However, if they once again fall to their fiercest rivals in the AFC North, what will it truly mean for the franchise going forward?

If you take the view of pundits nationwide, these Pittsburgh Steelers are old, beaten up and the last clingers-on of a golden era in the Steel City.

By that logic, the re-tooled, youthful Bengals really should be rolling over them. However, that has not been the case. In three meetings Andy Dalton remains without a win over Big Ben. 

Fans in the AFC North will know that with Roethlisberger under center, the Steelers will always be dangerous.

To an extent, Bengals fans (myself included) have given Cincy a chance this Sunday primarily based on how banged-up Pittsburgh is. While that may be the case, its no way to view a contest. In a perfect world, we should be confident that a full-strength Bengals team could beat a full-strength Steelers team.

But when will that truly be the case?

Perhaps the real question is, at what point does the 'They're still a young team' argument become redundant?

As Bengals fans, we pine for this team to be taken seriously and yet when the big games come along it's all too easy to hide behind those aforementioned words.

If ever there was a moment for Marvin Lewis to seize, this is it. If Coach Lew wants his overhaul to gain real validation, he needs a win over a beat-up Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh.

However, a loss would solidify a typical 'Bengals' 2012 campaign—rife with missed opportunities and 'not-quite-good-enoughs'. It would be the expected outcome for Marvin Lewis, a coach who while respected greatly within the NFL coaching sphere, has never quite been able to take that next step.

As we edge closer to kickoff, I wonder if there has been much of a meaningful change since Pittsburgh's 35-7 romp over the Bengals in the Steel City last year. The atmosphere before that game was very much akin to this one: Can the young Bengals get the job done and topple aging Steelers?

They couldn't, and I fear history could repeat itself on Sunday.

Despite years of disappointment in Pittsburgh, its hard not to get caught up in the excitement. There is a genuine belief that this time things are different, and at this point, they really need to be.

On Sunday A.J. Green and Andy Dalton will either set a new course for the Bengals as a franchise, or else take their place in the long lineup of nearly men to have donned orange and black.