The NFL released the 2013 schedule on Thursday, and the Cincinnati Bengals play host to some of the biggest names in the league. With the Patriots, Packers, Colts and Vikings all coming to Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals have an opportunity to prove their worth against some of the NFL’s biggest names in front of the Who Dey Nation.
The Bengals finished the season 10-6 last year before losing to the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Card game for the second straight year. In 2013, they’ll be looking to get over the hump and win their first playoff game since 1990.
Maintaining the core of the sixth ranked defense from 2012 was a focus this offseason and the main motive behind re-signing key players like defensive end Michael Johnson (franchise tag), linebacker Rey Maualuga and cornerbacks Adam Jones and Terence Newman.
The Bengals' secondary will certainly be tested in 2013, facing Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford outside of the AFC North. Not to mention, they face the Ravens twice with Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco.
The schedule is favorable for the Bengals overall as their home opener is a prime-time matchup against the Steelers and three of the last four games are in Cincinnati. Head coach Marvin Lewis had this to say about the schedule release, "It’s exciting to know we’ll open the home schedule against the Steelers on Monday night." (Bengals.com)
Following the release of the 2013 schedule, here’s a look at the Bengals’ easiest to hardest games, in order of increasing difficulty.
After the 2012 season, the San Diego Chargers cleaned house. They fired general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner, replacing them with Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy, respectively. They also brought in Ken Whisenhunt to be the offensive coordinator and signed running back Danny Woodhead to a two-year contract (ESPN).
The Chargers finished 2012 at 7-9 despite starting 3-1. The Bengals traveled to San Diego last year on Dec. 2 and left with a 20-13 victory. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 118 yards in that game, his third straight game with 100 yards.
A large part of why the Bengals beat the Chargers in 2012 was because Philip Rivers couldn’t throw the deep ball. He was 1-of-7 in the second half on throws 15 yards or deeper including an interception that he threw on the Chargers’ last play.
Additionally, the Chargers didn’t tackle well. Green-Ellis had 74 yards after contact—hey diddle diddle, no wonder they gave up a 4th-and-29 conversion the next week to Ray Rice up the middle (ESPN Stats).
This game shouldn't be a huge hurdle for the Bengals.
Key matchup: LB Vontaze Burfict vs. TE Antonio Gates
Going to Buffalo during football season can be a chore. For the past decade or so, the weather has been the toughest opponent in upstate New York. In 2013, the Bengals may avoid the elements when they take on the Bills in Week 6.
In order for the Bengals to take the next step as a team, they need to beat weaker teams and compete with those equal or better. The Bills finished last season ranked 23rd in the ESPN Power Rankings with a record of 6-10. Adding some bulletin board material, one of the few players that the Bengals lost to free agency was outside linebacker Manny Lawson, who signed a four-year deal in Buffalo.
On the field, look for the defensive line to dominate this game. The Bills are currently without a defined starting quarterback with Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson competing for the spot. It’s also rumored that Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib is a favorite to land in Buffalo for several reasons, including a personal tie to Bills coach Doug Marrone from Syracuse.
The Bengals pass rush should be able to keep pressure on the Bills signal-callers consistently. Offensively, the task may not be as easy. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is one of the league's young, rising stars and the Bengals' interior linemen will have their hands full with him.
Ultimately, the Bengals' defense should be able to keep the Bills from lighting up the scoreboard rather easily and win the game.
Key Matchup: G Kevin Zeitler vs. DT Marcell Dareus
The Cincinnati Bengals split their two games with the Cleveland Browns in 2012. The Bengals won by seven in Week 2 and the Browns won by 10 in Week 6. After picking up two first-round picks in Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson in 2012, the Browns find themselves yet again with a lottery pick at No. 6 in 2013.
The Browns travel to Cincinnati in Week 11 to take on the Bengals. This game comes a week before the Bengals' bye week, giving Cincinnati no reason to hold back. With a young quarterback and a stud running back, Cleveland must rely on its ground game to survive.
By this point, the Bengals defense will have already faced the Browns and that, combined with the fact that the game is in Cincinnati, should give the Boys in Stripes the edge.
The Browns should play the Bengals better the second time around—they usually do. However, by Week 11, the Bengals should be eyeing down the playoffs and it is unlikely they let the Browns derail their chances.
If the Bengals are to reach the next level—winning a playoff game—controlling the AFC North is the first task.
The state of the New York Jets franchise is best captured by the infamous play now known as the Butt Fumble. With Darrelle Revis now in Tampa Bay, Tim Tebow hovering in contract purgatory, a new general manager and Mark Sanchez as the quarterback, the Jets have many questions that remain unanswered.
The offseason doesn’t look to be slowing down for the Jets. Of their unanswered questions, many of their answers will be implied by their decisions next week at the NFL draft. The last time the Jets were in Cincinnati was 2009, when they beat the Bengals 24-14 in the AFC Wild Card game.
That loss came just six days after the Bengals suffered a 37-0 loss to the Jets in New York. The Bengals were torched by Brad Smith and Shonn Greene in those games, so stopping the run will certainly be a focus, especially with the unreliable Mark Sanchez at quarterback.
This game is the equivalent of the game against the Cowboys in 2012. While the Bengals should be favored to win this game, a complacent performance will easily result in a loss for Cincinnati.
The opponent here is easy, but the Bengals seem to lose one of these games every year (Cowboys and Browns in 2012, San Francisco in 2011), keeping them on the fence to make the playoffs towards the end of the season. This year, they win this game and head into Week 9 against the Dolphins riding high.
Anytime the Bengals go to Cleveland, they know they're in for a dog fight. This time is no different. Browns running back Trent Richardson will be the best running back the Bengals have seen up to that point, and don't be surprised if he goes off. Richardson had 950 yards rushing in 2012 and will be looking to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in 2013.
This game will be a little harder for the Bengals since it's the first time they are seeing them this year, but their youth combined with a rookie head coach should bode well for Marvin Lewis and Co. History would prove that neither of those factors matter, as the Bengals' record against the Browns is 42-37 since 1970.
This isn't a game that many Bengals have circled on their calendar, but like any other game in the AFC North, it can't be overlooked.
Key Matchup: LB Rey Maualuga vs. RB Trent Richardson
The Dolphins squeezed past the Bengals in 2012 with a 17-13 win in Week 5. QB Andy Dalton struggled, posting his third-lowest passer rating of the season behind a 60.5 percent completion percentage and two interceptions. He was also pressured into three sacks by the Dolphins defense.
This offseason, the Dolphins have lost key pieces to their operation in running back Reggie Bush to the Lions, offensive tackle Jake Long to the Rams and tight end Anthony Fasano to the Chiefs. Defensively, they lose a presence in linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was released on March 14.
The Bengals won’t need any extra motivation going into this game after what happened last season. Adding to that, Dansby is a favorite to land in Cincinnati as the “Sam” linebacker; he would bring the familiarity and motivation needed to get past the Dolphins in 2013. The Dolphins did sign wide receiver Mike Wallace from free agency, adding a deep threat to their artillery.
The Bengals struggled behind Andy Dalton's two interceptions and the fact that the leading rusher was Bernard Scott with 40 yards. Look for Dalton to come out throwing to make a point early.
Defensively, the Bengals front line may have some trouble chasing the athletic Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, but ultimately, the defensive line will be the difference makers for Cincinnati.
This game is a Thursday night, prime-time game on NFL Network, giving the Bengals all the more reason not to disappoint with such an exclusive national audience.
Key Matchup: DT Geno Atkins vs. C Mike Pouncey
The Bears started 2012 with a record of 7-1 and gave the impression that they were serious playoff contenders. Their offense was questionable, but their defense, led by CB Charles Tillman, kept them in games and put points on the scoreboard. After scoring 51 points in a blowout against the Titans in Week 9, the Bears finished the season 3-5 and missed the playoffs.
The most recognizable presence on that Bears defense has been Brian Urlacher, but after he and the team couldn’t agree to terms, Urlacher was released. He referred to the public declarations made by Bears officials as “lip service” (ESPN).
Offensively, WR Brandon Marshall had a stellar year in 2012, seemingly rekindling a past relationship with QB Jay Cutler from their days together in Denver. He caught 118 passes for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns—all career bests.
The depth at the cornerback position in Cincinnati will come into play against larger receivers like Marshall. Dre Kirkpatrick, Terence Newman and Adam Jones will all be tasked with containing the 6’4”, 230-pound receiver to as few yards after catch as possible.
This should be an easy game for the Bengals personnel-wise. If Cutler and Marshall get into a rhythm, this could be trouble for the Bengals, but the Cincinnati pass rush should swing the scale in their favor.
Key Matchup: CB Dre Kirkpatrick vs. WR Brandon Marshall
This is the first year that the NFL has scheduled divisional games for everyone during Week 17. Just like last year, the Bengals will host the Ravens to end the regular season. The Bengals will have played the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 10 already. Ultimately, the mass exodus of veterans from Baltimore this offseason will be too much for head coach John Harbaugh to overcome.
Of all the AFC North teams, the Ravens lost the most as far as personnel and emotional leadership. Linebacker Ray Lewis announced his retirement prior to their Super Bowl run, and defensive specialists Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard were among some surprising players to leave Baltimore.
The Bengals retained the most of the AFC North teams, only losing a handful of backup players to free agency and re-signing key contributors.
By the time this game happens, the Bengals should know if they will be in the playoffs or not. If they make the postseason, don't be surprised if some key players are rested this game in preparation for the playoffs.
Anytime the Bengals and Steelers meet, there's something at stake. Carlos Dunlap summed it up pretty well this past week when asked about potentially having James Harrison join the team, "He hates the Steelers now, and that's somebody we need on our side of the football" (NFL.com).
This game should be a fun one to watch, but as far as difficulty for the Bengals, the Steelers don't provide anything that the Bengals haven't seen. These two teams are so familiar with each other that it sometimes comes down to mere execution.
There will certainly be a revenge factor for one of these teams resulting from their Week 2 matchup on Monday Night Football.
Adrian Peterson finished the 2012 regular season nine yards short of the all-time rushing record. He even said after the season that he wasn’t 100 percent. Considering he did this only months after having ACL surgery, anyone in his way in 2013 better beware (Deadspin).
The Bengals will face Peterson and the Vikings during Week 16 at Paul Brown Stadium. The Vikings haven’t played in Cincinnati since Sept. 18, 2005, when the Bengals won 37-8. For many Bengals fans, this will be their first time seeing Peterson in person.
What better opportunity for the Bengals to make a defensive statement? The Bengals defensive line made a name for itself last year behind defensive tackle Geno Atkins as the group garnered 43 of the team’s 51 sacks. This game will be a chance for them to prove their run-game prowess as well.
If Peterson is to approach the record again, as he told NFL Network's Marshall Faulk, he will have to be at or around 2,000 yards going into the game against the Bengals. Whether or not he's able to accomplish these feats against the Bengals will speak volumes about their resolve and pride.
There are several enticing matchups to watch in this game: Defensive end Jared Allen vs. Andrew Whitworth is one to watch in the trenches. Adrian Peterson vs. Vontaze Burfict will be an interesting pairing as well as Chad Greenway vs. Jermaine Gresham. An underrated factor that could come into play is Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Rudolph is from Cincinnati, where he attended Elder High School before heading to South Bend, Ind. and eventually landing in Minnesota. This will mark his first return to his hometown since joining the NFL. The same way everything stops on Sundays for the Bengals to play, everything stops on Friday nights for the Elder Panthers.
Although it will still be the minority, a large group of Rudolph supporters will be in Paul Brown Stadium that day rooting for the purple and gold. This could contribute to the energy of the stadium, but more so, could add an unneeded motivation for Rudolph to perform well in front of his friends and family.
Key Matchup: LB Chad Greenway vs. TE Jermaine Gresham
In 2012, the Bengals opened their season in prime time in Baltimore. That resulted in an embarrassing 44-13 loss. This year, the Bengals will have a few warm-up games before they face the Super Bowl champions—nine to be exact. The 2013 Ravens are hardly recognizable from the 2012 team as many of its big-name players are no longer on the roster.
The Bengals, on the contrary, are pretty much the same team. Defensively, the only starter not on the 2013 roster is outside linebacker Manny Lawson, who saw about a third of the snaps. Offensively, tackle Andre Smith remains the only unsigned starter.
The depleted Ravens roster makes this game seem easy as things stand today, but obviously anything can happen between then and now. Because of the depth of the AFC North, Baltimore will be formidable, but by no means are they the same team from 2012.
The Detroit Lions’ roster brings about an obvious matchup nightmare for anyone on their schedule. Most obviously, no one can guard WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. Coming off of an NFL single-season record 1,964 receiving yards in 2012, Johnson will attract even more attention in 2013.
The Bengals are no different; defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will lose sleep that week trying to scheme ways to stop the Stafford-Johnson dynamic duo.
Johnson isn’t the only problem. On the defensive line, the Lions have arguably the best defensive tackle duo in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. These two will certainly require double-teams at times and will demand strategic attention from Bengals play callers.
The Lions also added RB Reggie Bush from the Miami Dolphins to their backfield, providing another dual-threat back for Stafford to throw or hand off to. When Bush played against the Bengals last year with the Dolphins, the Cincinnati defense did a good job of containing him, holding him to 48 yards rushing on 19 carries, and his only big play was a 21-yard reception.
Cincinnati has matchup advantages as well. A.J. Green strikes just as much fear in defensive coordinators as Megatron does. Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins combined for 30 sacks last year, and there’s no reason that type of pressure won't exist in Detroit.
This game could prove to be pivotal for the Bengals and don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a turning point for the season if it goes in Cincinnati’s favor.
For the second year in a row, the Cincinnati Bengals' home opener will be in prime time. Monday, Sept. 16, the Bengals will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football on ESPN. Any game against the Steelers is an important game for the Bengals.
This early in the season, the winner of this game owns early bragging rights until they meet again in Week 15. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will likely still be healthy at this point in the season as opposed to the many bumps and bruises he usually has come December.
Big Ben's health adds a completely new dimension to their offense as he can extend plays, break tackles and improvise better than anyone in the NFL.
The Bengals were able to re-sign most of their free agents from 2012. One of the few players who got away was backup QB Bruce Gradkowski, who signed with Pittsburgh, where he grew up.
Colts QB Andrew Luck couldn’t have replaced the legacy of Peyton Manning any better in 2012. He inherited a 2-14 team, transformed them and led them to an 11-5 record before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. They gathered together around their coach Chuck Pagano in an effort that even warranted opposing players to recognize and respect.
The Bengals host Andrew Luck and the Colts in Week 14 of the 2013 season. As impressive as Luck was on offense, the defense was equally unimpressive. The Colts finished 26th in total defense, and the Bengals will look to exploit their defensive weaknesses in this game.
Dwight Freeney has been the glue of the Colts defense the last several seasons, but he is actively pursuing his options in free agency. How the Colts will replace him remains to be seen.
Offensively, it looks like Luck will be losing a weapon in receiver Austin Collie as he is exploring the free-agent market as well. That shouldn’t be a problem, however, because the Colts signed former first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey from the Raiders.
The Bengals defensive secondary will certainly be tested in 2013. This game is no different. There are still questions about how Mike Zimmer will fill the second safety position opposite Reggie Nelson, but those should be dissolved after the NFL draft in two weekends. Regardless, Luck and the Colts will put the Bengals to the test in early December.
Key Matchup: WR A.J. Green vs. CB Vontae Davis
Anytime a Super Bowl MVP comes to town, it’s a big deal. Aaron Rodgers is a large reason why the game against the Packers will be the second-hardest game this season. Had this game been scheduled in Green Bay, it would probably be ranked No. 1.
Green Bay has two of the highest paid players at their positions in QB Rodgers and LB Clay Matthews. Deservedly so, the Packers finished 2012 ranked sixth in the ESPN Power Rankings. Without future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson on the roster anymore, A.J. Green will have the opportunity to expose the Packer secondary.
The Packers and Bengals played last year during the preseason in a game resulting in a 27-13 Packer victory. Preseason game results are about as relevant as kickers at the combine, though, so that doesn't say much.
Key Matchup: G Kevin Zeitler, C Trevor Robinson and G Clint Boling vs. DT B.J. Raji and LB Clay Matthews
Year in and year out, it’s a safe bet that the Patriots will put together a quality, playoff-caliber team. Quarterback Tom Brady’s perfectly manicured hair will one day be immortalized in Canton, and despite the departure of Wes Welker, the Patriots have the weapons to win week in and out.
Look for the Patriots offense to utilize the short pass, screen and misdirection run game to counteract the Bengals pass rush. Patriots receiver Danny Amendola should be a key factor from the slot receiver position as he’ll likely be lined up across from a rookie Bengals safety or outside linebacker—yet to be drafted obviously.
Offensively for the Bengals, A.J. Green has his work cut out for him as the Patriots recently re-signed cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib. The run game has a daunting task as well, since the Patriots also signed defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to assist Vince Wilfork in the middle.
The Patriots finished last season ranked No. 4 in the ESPN Power Rankings. Losing Welker in the offseason hurt their offense but not so much that Danny Amendola can’t replace the memory of Wes Welker in Foxboro.
This game will be an early test of whether the Bengals are a playoff-caliber team. Being that it's at home, they even have a chance of winning. Regardless, this game is the hardest game the Bengals have all season.
Key Matchup: Bengals Rookie Safety vs. WR Danny Amendola