Nov 6, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis looks on from the sidelines against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium. The Browns won 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
The Cincinnati Bengals are off to the hottest start in franchise history. The 7-0 Bengals start their prime time journey this Thursday night when they host the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati’s inter-state rival. After playing the Browns, the Bengals host the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football on November 16 and head west to take on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football, November 22, in a game that was just recently flexed to prime time.
This additional prime time game will be the fifth prime time game on Cincinnati’s docket this season, barring any other flexed games (the Bengals will have two late-season prime time matchups against the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos in Weeks 15 and 16). If there are any remaining questions on whether the Bengals can deal with the drama and pressure surrounding big games, how the Bengals perform in these three upcoming contests could answer those questions.
How does a team even get to prime time these days? Every team plays at least one game on Monday Night football, and the few teams that play at least a game per year in London technically have a hold on that time slot. The Cowboys and Lions always play on Thanksgiving, and most NFL teams generally play at least once game on a Thursday night. Aside from that, however, the NFL’s scheduling committee is stuck with the task of figuring out which game is going to capture the biggest audience on any given Sunday night within the time period in which prime time games can be flexed.
Make no mistake; prime time is reserved for the best teams or the biggest storylines, because these two factors are what drive the NFL’s ratings. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago when the Bengals weren’t ever shown in prime time. In fact, when the Bengals hosted the Broncos in 2004, it was the first time they had hosted Monday Night Football in Cincinnati since 1990.
Oct 18, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Certainly a lot has changed since 1999, and a lot has even changed since 2004. This is a new regime; quarterback Andy Dalton just surpassed Carson Palmer in the Bengals’ record books, winning his 47th game as a Bengal in Sunday’s victory over the Steelers. The Bengals’ recent success certainly helps with the prime time nod, but is that really what makes the Cincinnati Bengals a prime time team? What else could it be that entices audiences to watch Bengals football?
Andy Dalton’s early success could play a big part in why the Bengals game in Arizona was flexed. He’s having a career year, with with 15 touchdowns, 4 interceptions and nearly 2,000 yards through just seven games. A.J. Green has also been lights-out, tallying 649 receiving yards and four touchdowns through the season’s first seven games. And Cincinnati’s defense, resurged by the return of Vontaze Burfict who took 36 snaps in his first game back from injury. The Bengals have a talented team that boasts perhaps the best depth of any NFL team. They’re exciting to watch in all phases of the game, and they have some superstar talent across the board.
The Bengals’ 7-0 start is no accident and certainly no coincidence. This undefeated stretch is the culmination of solid draft classes, a couple of nice free agent acquisitions, continuity in the coaching staff and a collaborative effort across the board to make this year the year that the Bengals win the Super Bowl.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a team that the NFL should want to showcase in prime time. This is a team that can handle adversity and the bright lights that lay ahead. This is a team that has the opportunity to erase the never-ending stigma that it cannot win in prime time. This is a team that also has an opportunity to become comfortable in prime time and shine when the lights are the brightest. That is what great teams do, and that is what great teams who are vying for a first-round bye do. They win and win often, and when the lights come on, they shine. Getting two or three wins in the next three games could all but convince Cincinnati’s doubters that this Bengals team is for real and ready to make a run in the playoffs.