Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals wrested the AFC North Division title away from the Pittsburgh Steelers, capturing their first title in over a decade.
But the Steelers exacted their revenge in the Wildcard playoffs, beating the Bengals in Cincinnati and injuring star quarterback Carson Palmer in the process as Pittsburgh would go on to win Super Bowl XL.
Apparently, the NFL feels the battle for the AFC North title will come down the Steelers and Bengals again this season as it scheduled Pittsburgh to visit Cincinnati in a New Years Eve regular season finale.
But the Bengals won't have to wait long for their shot at playing the Steelers in 2006. Cincinnati is scheduled to play at Heinz Field in Week 3 in a 1 p.m. game. Palmer, who tore ligaments and dislocated his left knee following a hit by Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen, expects to be ready to play when the regular season begins.
According to the schedule released by the NFL Thursday, the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers will play four prime time games in 2006 with a possibility for more under the new flexible scheduling rules the league will use this year. The league can move one game per week to Sunday night in Weeks 10-15 and in Week 17, ensuring quality matchups in those games.
Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be moved. Flexible scheduling will not be applied to games airing on Thursday, Saturday or Monday nights.
The Steelers will open their season, as previously released by the league, Thursday Sept. 7 at Heinz Field against Miami.
Pittsburgh will follow that prime time game up with a second prime time contest. traveling to Jacksonville Sept. 18 to play the Jaguars on Monday night.
After hosting the Bengals in Week 3, the Steelers have their off week before hitting the difficult stretch of the schedule in October, a four-game swing that has them traveling to San Diego, Atlanta and Oakland, with a home game against Kansas City.
The Steelers open November with a game at Heinz Field with a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game when they host the Denver Broncos.
New Orleans visits Heinz Field Nov. 12 before the Steelers begin a stretch that sees them play five division contests in their final seven games.
That stretch begins at Cleveland Nov. 19 and sends the Steelers to Baltimore the next week. Both games are 1 p.m. contests, meaning they could be shifted to Sunday if the league chooses.
The Steelers return home Dec. 3 for a 1 p.m. game against Tampa Bay and turn around and face Cleveland at Heinz Field just four days later in a prime time contest.
Pittsburgh returns to action Dec. 17 at Carolina before finishing up the season at home against Baltimore at 1 p.m. Christmas Eve and at Cincinnati the following week.
The Steelers also announced the date and times for their two preseason home games. Pittsburgh will host Minnesota Saturday, Aug. 19 at 8 p.m. and will play Carolina Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. Both games will be broadcast by KDKA.
In other news, the team announced that it has signed free agent wide receiver Eugene Baker, a fifth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1999 out of Kent State. Baker spent four seasons with the Falcons and has spent time with Buffalo, Carolina and St. Louis. He was released by New England at the conclusion of training camp last year. Baker has seven career catches for 118 yards.
Saturday, Aug. 12 @ Cardinals 4:05 pm (KDKA)
Saturday, Aug. 19 VIKINGS 8:00 pm (KDKA)
Friday, Aug. 25 @ Eagles 8:00 pm (ESPN)
Thursday, Aug. 31 PANTHERS 7:30 pm (KDKA)
Thursday, Sept. 7 DOLPHINS 8:30 pm (NBC)
Monday, Sept. 18 @ Jaguars 8:30 pm (ESPN)
Sunday, Sept 24 BENGALS 1:00 pm (CBS)
Sunday, Oct. 1 BYE WEEK
Sunday, Oct. 8 @ Chargers 8:15 pm (NBC)
Sunday, Oct. 15 CHIEFS 4:15 pm (CBS)
Sunday, Oct. 22 @ Falcons 1:00 pm (CBS)
Sunday, Oct. 29 @ Raiders 4:15 pm (CBS)
Sunday, Nov. 5 BRONCOS 4:15 pm (CBS)
Sunday, Nov. 12 SAINTS 1:00 pm (FOX)
Sunday, Nov. 19 @ Browns 1:00 pm (CBS)
Sunday, Nov. 26 @ Ravens 1:00 pm (CBS)
Sunday, Dec. 3 BUCCANEERS 1:00 pm (FOX)
Thursday, Dec. 7 BROWNS 8:00 pm (NFL Network)
Sunday, Dec. 17 @ Panthers 1:00 pm (CBS)
Sunday, Dec. 24 RAVENS 1:00 pm (CBS)
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ Bengals 1:00 pm (CBS)