Rooney: 'I doubt' Burfict-free game was intended


Vontaze Burfict is enemy No. 1 in Pittsburgh.

The Cincinnati Bengals linebacker was suspended three games for an illegal hit on Steelers receiver Antonio Brown -- which knocked the wideout out of Pittsburgh's playoff loss the following week. Burfict also made the tackle on Le'Veon Bell that ended the running back's season. Many Steelers players at the time believed Burfict knew Bell was hurt when he celebrated the tackle. Then there was the more recent social media spat with Steelers backup running back DeAngelo Williams.

2016 Schedule Release

The blood is bad between Burfict and the Steelers, to say the least.

When the NFL released the 2016 schedule on Thursday, we learned that Burfict will miss the first matchup against the Steelers -- Week 2 in Pittsburgh -- due to his suspension.

While some in Cincinnati might view it as extra punishment for the Bengals to be without their stud linebacker versus a division rival, Steelers president Art Rooney II doesn't believe the league had an anti-Bengals leaning when creating a matchup Burfict would miss.

"I doubt that," Rooney when asked if it was extra punishment for Burfict's behavior, via the team's official website. "I'm sure the league wanted a game that would be an interesting game for us to open our season at home, and that certainly fits the bill in terms of renewing the rivalry with the Bengals early in the season."

There are certainly enough storylines to make the Bengals-Steelers matchup intriguing, san Burfict. We could argue the matchup would have been more "interesting" if they plopped it squarely in Week 4, in Burfict's return. However, given how the end of the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh playoff game unraveled, the NFL would be justified in trying to keep the after-play antics at a minimum. Not having Burfict on the field will help in that endeavor.

Whether it was a conscious decision or not to play the Bengals-Steelers first matchup in the Burfict-less window, there will still be enough bad blood on the field for a highly entertaining division game. Barring injury -- or another suspension -- Burfict should be on the field when Cincinnati hosts Pittsburgh in Week 15. Then that part of the rivalry can be renewed.