Bengals’ primetime battles can prove they’re back

Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Some of the most exciting games each year are played under the lights on National TV. Even after a lackluster season, the Bengals have two chances in primetime to show the country they are back.

With the 2017 draft in the rearview mirror, Bengals fans now anxiously await the start of the regular season. That can only mean one thing. It’s time to look at the schedule and get psyched about the “big games.” Some of the biggest games are the prime time showdowns on National Television. These games give fans from all over the country the chance to see teams they otherwise may not. For the teams involved, these hyped up games give them an opportunity to perform on the national stage and show that they are a contender.

This year, the Bengals have two primetime games: September 14 against the Houston Texans and December 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here are some things to look forward to in those two games.

Bengals vs. Texans – 9/14/17 8:25 pm NFL Network

The Bengals first primetime game of the season is a Thursday night battle with the AFC South champion Houston Texans. Bengals fans know the Texans well as the two teams faced off twice in the playoffs during the Matt Schaub era. As many Bengals fans remember, the Texans came out on top in both of those game including one started by T.J. Yates. The Bengals and Texans also played Week 16 last season, with the Texans coming out on top 12-10.

Fast forward to Week 2 of the 2017 NFL season and the Texans aren’t a whole lot different than they were. They have an incredibly good defense headlined by a returning J.J. Watt, a star receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, and virtually no quarterback to speak of. Last year, the Texans gave the reigns to Tom Savage whom they may look to again this season. Other options are Brandon Weeden and rookie DeShaun Watson. While Watson may be a great player at some point in his career, none of these guys instill a lot of fear in opposing defenses.

Why It’s Important

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This game gives the Bengals a great opportunity. They play on a shortened week after taking on the Ravens in Week 1. This means that in a span of four days, the team could start off 0-2 or 2-0. The Bengals should be able to hold the Texans offense in check if they account for Lamar Miller and Hopkins, load the box and make whichever quarterback they throw out there win the game. On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest concern is preventing J.J. Watt from getting to Andy Dalton. This may be a bit challenging considering two of their starters from the offensive line are no longer with the team (Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler). It’s also worth noting that this will be the first time many NFL fans see John Ross and Joe Mixon play in the NFL.

It would be extremely surprising if this contest turned into a barn burner. The team that wins will most likely come out victorious due to turnover margin and scoring defense.

Way too early prediction: Bengals 24, Texans 16

Bengals vs. Steelers – 12/4/17 8:30 pm ESPN

Let’s be honest here, the Bengals have had a really difficult time with the Steelers the past decade. They are 3-7 in their last ten meetings and 7-23 in their last 30. After having chances to beat the Steelers in both games last year yet still coming up 0-2, the Bengals look to rebound against their division foe. Unfortunately, the Steelers (who made it to the conference championship last season) didn’t lose a whole lost during the offseason. They retained Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger. Furthermore, the Steelers looked to build up their defense in the first round of the draft by taking Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt. The Steelers will probably be one of the favorites in the AFC this season which makes this game pivotal if the Bengals want to usurp them for this year’s divisional crown.

Why It’s Important

This game comes at a point in the year when teams will be jockeying for playoff positioning. This means that this particular Monday night game could be make-or-break for the Bengals. They will realistically have to win at least one of their two matchups with the Steelers, in order to have a chance at the division. With this game being at home, it is the more likely of the two.

The keys to the game for the Bengals are stopping the Steelers stars on defense, and not having empty possessions on offense. Last season, the Bengals did reasonably well in holding Pittsburgh’s offense. The Steelers scored 24 points in both games, certainly below what they’re capable of. The biggest issue was that the offense was incapable of putting points on the board. In their first meeting, the Bengals scored just 16 points. In the second contest, they scored 20. Fans have become all too familiar with three and outs coming from two inept running plays and an incomplete pass. The Bengals will have to get chunks of yards on the early downs, control the clock, and cap off drives with touchdowns instead of field goals.

Look for this game to be a classic AFC North slugfest and the score to be lower than one would think considering the offensive firepower these teams have.

Way Too Early Prediction: Bengals 16, Steelers 27

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Primetime Performance

Both of the Bengals’ primetime games are extremely important to their season. Both are against playoff teams from last year and represent chances to beat teams that have traditionally given them problems. While the regular season is still down the road, it’s not hard to get excited about the possibility of a better year for the Men in Stripes. These two games will go a long way in deciding if a playoff season is a reality or just another Bengals fan pipe dream.