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Bad blood? Bengals, Steelers brace for another contentious AFC North battle

CINCINNATI -- You'll recall the day after the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers last played, a war of words broke out between players from both teams that spilled over into the media.

What impact might those verbal skirmishes have later this week when the teams meet again, this time in Cincinnati? So far, it doesn't appear it will be too much. But remember, there are still six days to go until kickoff. There's plenty of time for things to change ahead of a game that could give the Bengals their fourth AFC North title.

As muted as the conversation about the bad blood between the Bengals and Steelers may have been in the two locker rooms Monday, it's still clear both sides will bring their share of animosity into Sunday's game.

"We don't like them, they don't like us," Steelers guard David DeCastro said. "That's as simple as it could be."

Said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton: "We know every time we've played them it's been a tough, hard-nosed game. We expect that's what it's going to be."

Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson didn't mince words when asked about the game.

"I heard all the talk that they are looking forward to playing and that there's bad blood," Jackson said. "It is what it is. We are going to be here. We are not running. We've already been up there, so let's go."

It was Nov. 1, in a Week 8 meeting at Heinz Field, when the Bengals rallied late to win, 16-10. That was the first of three straight games in which the Bengals' defense allowed only 10 points. Since the win, which gave Cincinnati its first 8-0 start in franchise history, its defense has allowed just 12.3 points per game.

Last month's game got increasingly contentious for the division rivals as the game went on.

It started with Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict's hard tackle of Steelers rusher Le'Veon Bell along Pittsburgh's sideline. As soon as he brought Bell down, Burfict ran 30 yards into the middle of the field and celebrated the hit with a Bengals teammate. At the same time, Bell was writhing on the ground holding his right knee. It was later revealed that he had suffered a season-ending injury.

Following that hit, Steelers safety Mike Mitchell hit Bengals receiver Marvin Jones hard in the midsection on a pass breakup that looked a lot worse than it actually was. Jones only had his wind knocked out, but Bengals players said that while he was trying to catch his breath, Mitchell pointed at A.J. Green and said, "You're next."

Green went on to catch the game-winning touchdown. That entire sequence prompted Jones to call Mitchell "fake tough," and contributed to the postgame war of words.

Asked if he believed bad blood existed between the teams, Jackson paused.

"I don't think there is necessarily good blood," he said. "We have what they want. I get it. Let's be honest about this thing. We are leading the AFC North. They want to lay stake and claim an opportunity to have what we have. We can't run from that."

Jackson was quick to add he had "great respect" for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and his staff.

"But I also have great respect for our men and our process and how we go about our business and how we set out to do what we set out to do," Jackson added. "It's going to be one hell of a football game, that's all I know."

ESPN Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler contributed to this report.