There may be no Vontaze Burfict, and Cam Heyward might insist that the Bengals aren’t the Steelers‘ biggest rival (it’s still the Ravens, apparently), but recent history suggests that Sunday’s matchup will be a chippy affair. Which explains why the league says the officials calling the game will have “heightened awareness” ahead of the fourth meeting in less than a year between the AFC North foes.
“Before every game we provide the crew with a scouting report [along with video clips] for the two teams,” NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said, via ESPN.com. “If there is a history between two teams, or players, that could lead to issues like we had last year then we include it in the report.
“The issues that came up last year will be covered with the crew for this game. All crews are directed to set the tone early in games so the players understand where the line is, and that should be consistent for all games, but just based on the history there will be a heightened awareness for this one.”
Last season, during the Week 8 meeting, Burfict injured Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell on a tackle near the sidelines. Bell didn’t play again in 2015 and later said that the Bengals were intentionally trying to hurt him.
The two teams met again in the wild-card game and Burfict was flagged for a head shot to Antonio Brown late in the game that — along with Joey Porter randomly showing up in the middle of the field to exacerbate matters — set up the Steelers’ winning field goal.
(Related: Burfict was suspended by the league for the first three games of the 2016 season due to “repeated violations of safety-related playing rules,” which is why he won’t be at Heinz Field this Sunday.)
By the time the dust had settled on the ’15 season, the two teams combined for more than $200,000 in fines. The league wants to avoid that, obviously, and even the Bengals know they can’t get caught up in the mind games.
“Every play it was something. Every play. It was to the point where I was like, ‘We really was doing that?'” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said Thursday, via ESPN.com. “Everybody on the team probably needed a reality check.”
In case you’re wondering, six of the eight CBSSports.com experts have the Steelers winning Sunday.
Source: CBS Sports / NFL head of officials: Bengals-Steelers officials will have a ‘heightened awareness’