The NFL released the regular season schedule on Thursday night giving us a look at when the Cincinnati Bengals play their opponents.
Last week we found out who the Cincinnati Bengals would play in the preseason. Thursday night we found out when the team will play each opponent in the regular season. With five team’s from last year’s playoffs on the schedule, it could be an interesting schedule, four of those teams will be played before the halfway mark.
It will be a tough start to the season following their week one matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. Cincinnati will return home on a short week for a Thursday Night showdown against their divisional rival the Baltimore Ravens. They will then play four 2017 playoff teams between week 3-7. The Bengals will face the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Kansas City Chiefs all before week 8 of the season and before their bye week in week 9.
The team will also face off against the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers who had playoff contending seasons in 2016. Add in the final game during that stretch being the Indianapolis Colts who might have a fully healthy quarterback Andrew Luck for the first time in a couple seasons. Of course, who knows what Luck will be coming back to football after being out so long but we know what he was before, one of the best in the league.
Then to finish off the season, the Bengals will have to travel to divisional rivals the last two weeks, facing the Steelers in week 17. This is not an ideal matchup for the Bengals or possibly even the Steelers when looking at the possible outcomes of this game. This rivalry has been one of the most aggressive and hard-hitting rivalries in recent years. Not only are the Bengals on a six-game losing streak against the rival foe Steelers including the wild-card loss, but this game could result in injuries right before the playoffs start if the game goes how it normally does.
Of course, that is if they make the playoffs in 2018. Matt Verderame of FanSided has already put out a pre-draft schedule prediction for the entire league and has the Bengals once again reaching 7-9. Cincinnati still has some work to do on the roster if they want to get back to the playoffs this year, especially on the offensive line. With roster needs and new coaching, it could be a hard year for the Bengals, especially if they are starting out the schedule with this many tough opponents.
New Orleans Saints
Luckily the team will get an extra week to prepare for the New Orleans Saints who lost in the last minute of the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs to the Minnesota Vikings on a gut-wrenching play. Expect the Saints to pick up right where they left off and be just as dominant without the slow start. They kept most of their players this offseason and will be adding some key pieces in the draft making them more dangerous.
New Orleans has been known for its offensive heavy style for years but last season they finally added pieces on the defensive side of the ball to get them back in the Super Bowl hunt. The best addition to the Saints was first-round pick cornerback Marshon Lattimore who had an elite rookie season with the club. New Orleans ranked 10th in points given up a game last year with 20.4. Giving the team another offseason to bolster an already stacked roster should make the team an even bigger threat as the team tries to give quarterback Drew Brees another ring before hanging up the cleats.
Kansas City Chiefs
One of the loudest teams this offseason outside of the Los Angeles Rams are the Kansas City Chiefs. Before the Super Bowl was even played, the Chiefs made a trade agreement with the Washington Redskins sending veteran quarterback Alex Smith over and acquiring cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick. Fuller had a breakout season for the Redskins but will be stepping into a big role as the Chiefs also traded away superstar cornerback Marcus Peters.
Kansas City still has multiple holes to fill on defense after a rough season on that side of the ball. New general manager Brett Veach has already made moves for 2018 and with a good draft, the team could be looking at a real run with second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes who sat behind Smith last season. The Chiefs have extraordinary talent on the offensive side of the ball with tight end Travis Kelce, last year’s rushing leader running back Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill who lit the league on fire with his first season as a true number one last season, and newly acquired wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
The Bengals will absolutely struggle to slow this possible juggernaut offense down and will have to be able to keep up offensively. That could be proven difficult even with the departure of Peters as there are still many playmakers on the defensive side. Linebacker Justin Houston remains one of the best in the league, safety Eric Berry will return from a week 1 injury that had him sidelined all of 2017, and now with linebackers Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens plugging the middle of the defense, it could prove difficult to put up big numbers. This will absolutely be one of the hardest games for the Bengals.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are easily the biggest obstacle inside the division for the Bengals. Losing six straight including the wild-card round in 2015. If Cincinnati wants to make a stance and prove they are playoff contenders, they will have to go through the Steelers. The first matchup is in week 6 which is the best opportunity for the Bengals to end the losing streak. They also play in week 17 in Pittsburgh which could be a difficult task, especially if playoffs are on the line.
The Steelers managed to keep running back LeVeon Bell with a second franchise tag this offseason. Even with the money tied up in that contract, they managed to bring in a couple free agents like linebacker Jon Bostic who had the best season of his career in 2017 with the Colts and versatile safety Morgan Burnett. Without linebacker Ryan Shazier, however, that defense is not the same.
Most of the Steelers success will ride on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and how much left he has in him. He’s contemplated retirement that last couple offseasons and seems to be close to hanging up the cleats. He was still able to run the offense with the playmakers around him but will this be the season that he falls off? Getting a big win over the Steelers in week 6 would be huge for the Bengals franchise and build some momentum for the rest of the season. It’s the best opportunity for the team to send the message that they are serious contenders in 2018.