Cincy will be looking to put on a more impressive display than their first preseason outing in 2011 that saw them blown out 34-3 by the Detroit Lions. However, given the Bengals' playoff berth that very same year, we have to remember not to hang our hopes on the preseason performance.
With that in mind, based on what we have seen in the period between J.J. Watt and Arian Foster punishing the Bengals in January through to the draft and training camp to now, it's time to make some predictions on where this side stacks up in terms of likely wins and losses in 2012.
Week 1 at Baltimore Ravens
Always a tough way to start the year, this could prove pivotal in establishing early momentum for the Bengals. With a raft of winnable games to follow, a win here could be crucial.
This one will take place on Monday Night Football in Baltimore, where the Bengals will need to produce something special. The realist in me has Baltimore taking this one, even without Terrell Suggs.
The Bengals struggled to stop the run in 2012, and despite having new weapons in the war against Ray Rice in Brandon Thompson and Devon Still, they likely won't have the chance to make an impact until the second meeting.
Result: Loss (0-1)
Week 2 Cleveland Browns
The Cincinnati Bengals' home opener comes via the 78th Battle of Ohio in a year that brings fresh intrigue to this recently not-so-fierce rivalry with the addition of Browns QB Brandon Weeden.
That being said, Weeden's supporting cast does not boast as much firepower as their Ohio counterparts, and given Trent Richardson's ongoing problems with his surgically repaired knee, it may be some time before these games become a true competition once again.
Result: Win (1-1)
Week 3 at Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III will be two games into a pressure-filled rookie campaign and facing his home opener when the Bengals visit in Week 3. Given that the Redskins face the Saints and the Rams on the road to start the regular season, the Bengals have a good opportunity to capitalize on a road weary team.
Comparisons can be drawn between the push for youth by these two sides; unfortunately for Washington however, Cincinnati are about a year ahead of them. The Bengals defense had a resurgent year in 2011, and with a whole offseason for Andy Dalton and the offense to improve, the Bengals should take another step forward here.
Result: Win (2-1)
Week 4 at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Cincinnati Bengals maintained their then No.1 ranked defense through a meeting with Jacksonville in 2011, helped by some horrendous play from Blaine Gabbert and the offense.
The story could be very much the same in 2012 as former Bengals OC and new Jaguars OC Bob Bratkowski have been cited calling the Jaguars passing game "not very good" (and that's by Bratkowski standards!). Jacksonville will need to lean on disgruntled RB Maurice Jones-Drew and hope that Justin Blackmon can channel some A.J. Green if they have any hopes of reversing their fortunes this time around.
The Bengals need to rattle Gabbert early and often in this one, and considering their three sacks came from Jon Fanene, Frostee Rucker and Pat Sims in 2011, Atkins and Co. need to lead the charge in week 4.
Result: Win (3-1)
Week 5 Miami Dolphins
The main storyline in this one will undoubtedly be the return of Chad Johnson. Having not faced the Bengals during his time as a Patriot, this will be an interesting encounter for all involved. It's clear that Ochocinco is still beloved by the Cincinnati fans, and it's likely that he will receive a warm welcome when he makes his entrance in week 5.
Whether Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill or David Garrard lead the Fins into PBS, the main focus will be on DC Kevin Coyle's defense. The former Bengals secondary coach has real weapons at his disposal with pro bowl tackle's Paul Soliai and Randy Starks likely to cause problems. That's not to mention the big guns in DE Cameron Wake and MLB Karlos Dansby will also prove a tough test.
Result: Loss (3-2)
Week 6 at Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns will come into this game following back-to-back visits with the Baltimore Ravens (on a short week) and the Superbowl Champion New York Giants. The Bengals, on the other hand, will be decidedly fresher.
Given the difficulty of their two prior matchups, it will be impressive for Brandon Weeden to accomplish much of anything by this point. As a result, the Bengals get the Browns at just the right time: one week before they get a fairly even matchup with the Colts.
Result: Win (4-2)
Week 7 Pittsburgh Steelers
After a 2011 season that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers largely dominate Cincy, the Bengals will be hoping for a more even affair in 2012.
The Steelers are riddled with question marks this year having lost James Farrior, Hines Ward and Aaron Smith this offseason. They have a Mike Wallace holdout on their hands, Ben Roethlisberger's torn rotator cuff, Rashard Mendenhall likely to be on the PUP list and two rookies starting on the offensive line in David DeCastro and Mike Adams. However, it would be foolish to think this team is anything other than the Pittsburgh Steelers Bengals fans love to hate.
The Steelers may not be at their strongest, but an older and depleted Steelers team is still head and shoulders above much of the NFL.
However, with a home game to close out the first half of the season, the Bengals will hope to enter the bye week on a positive note. If the Bengals defense can exploit the rookies on the Steelers o-line and put pressure on an injury-conscious Big Ben, they could have the upper hand.
A.J. Green and Andy Dalton have two meetings with Pittsburgh under their belt heading into this one, and there is reason to believe they can get it done here.
Result: Win (5-2)
Week 8 BYE
These predictions give the Bengals a promising 5-2 record at the turn. Unfortunately for the Bengals, their schedule only gets tougher from here on out.
Week 9 Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos of the past few years have been a distinctly average football team. A distinctly average football team that the Bengals have failed to beat.
The defense in Denver has blossomed into a playoff caliber contender, but as will be proven here, they can't do it on their own. Peyton Manning replaces Tim Tebow in the lineup, but it's going to take a while for Manning (having been a Colt his entire career) to develop the sort of chemistry he is hoping too.
The Bengals fell short of beating the Broncos in 2011 thanks to some poor secondary play, and with renewed focus and added weapons this offseason, that should be rectified for 2012.
The Bengals will be fresh out of their bye week in this one while the Broncos will be coming off a home game against Drew Brees and the Saints. Bengals have the edge, but it should be close.
Result: Win (6-2)
Week 10 New York Giants
The Super Bowl Champs head to Paul Brown Stadium for this one, and unless they endure a Superbowl hangover of epic proportions, they should be a lock to leave with the win.
The Giants' defensive line will look to force Andy Dalton into making quick throws and flush him out of the pocket by focusing on attacking rookie Kevin Zeitler and serviceable center Kyle Cook.
If the Giants bring their playoff offense to this one, it's unlikely that Andy Dalton will be able to hang with Eli Manning. The silver lining lies in the fact that the Super Bowl champs lost to the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins (twice) and an abysmal Philadelphia Eagles team on the way to the top.
Result: Loss (6-3)
Week 11 at Kansas City Chiefs
The last time these two teams met, the Bengals walked away with their name on the AFC North title.
Both teams are strikingly different animals now. The Chiefs disappointed in 2011, but are having a great offseason. The players are revitalized under new head coach Romeo Crennel and eager to write a new chapter.
Matt Cassell, now in his fourth year, continues to be a point of concern for the Chiefs who are still waiting for him to become the player they thought he was. However, the main concerns for the Bengals will be the familiar face that is Peyton Hillis and Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles.
The Bengals have focused on the run this offseason following Arian Foster and Ray Rice exposing them 2011 and should be up to the challenge at this point in the season.
Result: Win (7-3)
Week 12 Oakland Raiders
Unlike the Chad Ochocinco, Carson Palmer will enter Paul Brown Stadium to a chorus of boos this season. With ill feeling still lingering in the hearts and minds of Bengals fans, this one will be all about pride.
Dennis Allen has been tasked with bringing the Raiders back to relevance, but considering that he is their third coach in as many years, it's going to be tough. Allen has inherited players from an old system, not only in coaching philosophy but in organizational structure. The Raiders need to clean house if they really want to start a new era, but with so much spent acquiring Carson Palmer, that isn't happening anytime soon.
The Bengals are the best team in this matchup, and barring a statement game from Carson Palmer, they should come away with the win.
Result: Win (8-3)
Week 13 at San Diego Chargers
Bengals/Chargers has proved to be an interesting matchup in recent years with a win apiece in their two meetings in 2009 and 2010.
The Chargers underachieved last year, and with Norv Turner on the hot seat, they will need big performances this season. The home field advantage leans in their favor, and new additions Melvin Ingram and Jarret Johnson give them firepower on defense while returning Antonio Gates and a crop of new receivers join Ryan Mathews to boost the offense.
As was the case at home in 2009, the Chargers will take the win here.
Result: Loss (8-4)
Week 14 Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have back-to-back divisional matchups with the Eagles and the Redskins before they visit the Bengals in Week 14. It's also worth noting that the following week they play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers. You might then suggest that given their tough schedule, the Cowboys are in danger of overlooking the Bengals in this one.
The Cowboys have been plagued by double digit injuries this offseason, and while in many cases these will be distant memories by this point in the season, there are concerns about the overall health of the team. Health isn't the only concern, however, with Jerry Jones recently calling his star receiver "very vulnerable".
With all of these factors in play, and given the timing of the matchup as well as its venue, the Bengals might just surprise the Cowboys in this one.
Result: Win (9-4)
Week 15 at Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles have retooled their already stacked roster, enhanced their coaching fraternity this offseason and are determined to rectify a putrid 2011 season.
The Eagles have back-to-back road games in Dallas and Tampa Bay leading up to this one, but given the current strength of the NFC East, the "Dream Team" will see this as both a crucial and winnable game.
It's hard to see Andy Dalton and the Bengals outscoring Michael Vick and the Eagles offense, and with the extremely talented Eagles defense under-performing in 2011, the focus will be on getting them to fulfill their potential.
Lincoln Financial Field is an intimidating place for a young team to play, especially in a Thursday night prime time affair. This may be a bridge too far for Cincinnati.
Result: Loss (9-5)
Week 16 at Pittsburgh Steelers
The climax to the Cincinnati Bengals' 2012 campaign continues in grueling fashion in week 16 as they travel to Heinz Field to improve on a dismal 35-7 mauling in 2011.
However, while the Bengals finish up at home against Baltimore, the Steelers conclude with a visit from the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers will want to finish strong against what they perceive as their two weaker division rivals, and given the success they had at home last year against the Bengals, they will be confident heading into this matchup.
The Bengals have a few extra days to recover following a tough road game in Philly before they head to Pittsburgh, but Heinz Field will provide no reprieve for Marvin Lewis's side. With Pittsburgh's penchant for performing well at the end of the year, and particularly when the weather starts to get cold, it's hard to bet against them here.
Result: Loss (9-6)
Week 17 Baltimore Ravens
In a repeat of last year's finale, the Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 once again this year. That match finished 24-16 in favor of the Ravens and saw them capture the AFC North title. The match is perhaps best remembered for Ray Rice's 191 yards and two touchdowns that would act as a warning for what awaited the Bengals in the playoffs.
At this stage in the season, the Bengals are likely to need this win more than the Ravens if they want to snatch a playoff berth away from the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will also be QB Andy Dalton's fourth meeting with the Ravens, and after another year of AFC North clashes, the younger members of the Bengals roster will be well aware of the level of competition that these matches require to win.
One year of experience later, the Bengals get the job done.
Result: Win (10-6)
FINAL RECORD (10-6)