Here are some matchups to watch in the Bengals 2014 schedule:
Sept. 7 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.: Bengals DC Paul Guenther vs. Ravens QB Joe Flacco
It is six years to the day Flacco made his NFL debut in Mike Zimmer’s first game as the Bengals defensive coordinator when, by the way, current Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was his position coach.
Flacco and Jackson won a very weird one in Baltimore by 17-10 in which Flacco scored the winner on, of all things, a 38-yard run. But he only threw for 125 yards and since then Flacco’s yards against the Bengals have come the hard way. Against the Bengals he’s got a 74 career passer rating with 12 TDs and 15 interceptions, about 10 points below his career mark.
And Guenther was in Zimmer’s headsets for most of it. Now he gets his shot with the tables turned in his debut.
The thinking is the Falcons are going take a left tackle to protect Matty Ice Ryan after a season he either got sacked, hit, or hurried on 40 percent of his throws. A lot of people are mocking Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson to them. If so, in his second game he faces the Bengals’ new rotation at right end with Michael Johnson in Tampa Bay. Gilberry, a savvy seven-year pro with 14 sacks in 30 Bengals games is a formidable foe for him early.
Sept. 21 TENNESSE, 1 p.m.: Bengals CB
Jones plays his first game against the team that made him the sixth pick in the 2005 draft, eight years after he last took a snap in Nashville. Wright, a third-year receiver, had a 1,000-yard year last season
Sept. 28 _ Bye. It is the earliest off week in the 12 seasons of head coach Marvin Lewis and the earliest since Oct. 7 in the 7-9 season of 2007 and Oct. 8 of 2006. In ’07 they lost three out of four coming out of the bye and in ’06 it was four out of five.
Oct. 5 at New England, 8:30 p.m.: Bengals OC Hue Jackson vs. Patriots HC Bill Belichick
On NBC’s Sunday Night Football (Cincinnati’s Channel 5), the Bengals try to beat Belichick and Tom Brady for the first time in Foxboro after beating them for the first time anywhere last season. Since the Bengals lost a Gillette shootout the first time they played Belichick-Brady in 2004 (35-28), scoring hasn’t been easy.
In three of their four games since, the Bengals have scored just one TD and that includes last year’s 13-6 win. In losing the 2010 opener, 38-24, during their last trip to the Bay State, they didn’t score a TD until the middle of the third quarter of a 31-3 game.
Oct. 12 CAROLINA, 1 p.m.: Bengals QB
Dalton, the fifth QB taken in the 2011 draft, faces the No. 1 pick of that draft class for the first time in the regular season. Dalton has been to the playoffs three times, Newton once. Dalton has been to the Pro Bowl once, Newton twice. Dalton out-played him in a preseason game their rookie year at PBS with a triple-digit passer rating to Newton’s 40, but a lot of water has streamed under the bridge since.
Oct. 19 at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.: Bengals CBs Leon Hall,
The Bengals haven’t won in Indianapolis since Norman Julius Esiason came off the bench to replace a dinged Jeff Blake back on Nov. 9, 1997 and they’ll need all hands on deck against Luck on the road. Last December at PBS the Bengals rolled, 42-28, despite Luck throwing for four TDs and 326 yards. But Hall wasn’t playing and Newman got hurt during the game.
Oct. 26 BALTIMORE, 1 p.m.: Bengals CB Terence Newman vs. Ravens WR Steve Smith
A celebration of experience. The 36-year-old Newman matches wits with the 35-year-old Smith as Newman settles in for the first of three home games. In Smith’s lone PBS appearance in 2006, a Bengals’ win over the Panthers, Smith had 126 yards on eight catches.
Nov. 2 JACKSONVILLE, 1 p.m.: Bengals C
Pollak figures to be the leader in the clubhouse to replace Kyle Cook at center, but this is going to be a formidable test for everybody on the line since the Jaguars have re-tooled their front in free agency. Head coach Gus Bradley has grabbed two of his stalwarts from Seattle to spearhead the rebuilding with Bryant and defensive end Chris Clemons.
It just so happens it’s six years to the day the Jags came into PBS and supplied the Bengals offensive line with one of its greatest days ever. Jags DT John Henderson, long gone from Jacksonville, tried to gouge out the eyes of left guard
The 0-8 Bengals were done getting stomped on. Whitworth turned and threw some punches, earning both an ejection and standing ovation as he saluted the crowd with both hands upraised on the walk to the locker room.
"I have to defend myself. When a guy is ripping my eyeballs out, it's not really cool," Whitworth said. "I don't know what you do as a player. It's either get fined or get in trouble, or this guy potentially ruin my career. I had to defend myself at that point."
It fueled the Bengals to a 21-19 win, a 4-3-1 finish without Carson Palmer, and just may have jump-started the ’09 North title run.
Nov. 6 CLEVELAND, 8:25 p.m.: Bengals CB Leon Hall vs. Browns WR Andrew Hawkins
A Thursday night crowd welcomes back Hawkins, one of the most popular players in the Bengals locker room the past three years, as he makes his first appearance against his mates since jetting from restricted free agency to the Browns for $13 million over the next four years. At 5-7, 180 pounds, he’s a beast to cover in space in the slot and he’ll be going up against one of the best slot corners in the game in Hall. The heady Hall has no doubt catalogued his practice work against Hawkins and Hawkins has done the same. It’s a tester for Hall coming off his second Achilles tear in three years and playing on a short week.
Let’s see now. Hall was five and Hawkins was four the last time the Bengals and Browns played in prime time, an Oct. 22, 1990 Monday night win in Cleveland for the Bengals best remembered for running back Ickey Woods’ return from an ACL tear after a 13-month hiatus.
Nov. 16 at New Orleans, 1 p.m.: Bengals NT
This is the city where Atkins got his name, a gift from then Saints general manager Jim Finks. Atkins’ father, Gene Atkins, played safety for seven years in New Orleans for one of the best defenses in the history of the NFL that never won a playoff game. The Bengals need a big defensive stand here since they’re starting a run of three straight road games.
Nov. 23 at Houston: Bengals CBs coach Vance Joseph vs. Texans HC Bill O’Brien
Joseph added to his growing reputation the last three seasons as the Houston secondary coach and when O’Brien replaced Gary Kubiak, the Bengals swooped in to get him. Joseph knows the Texans personnel as well as anyone, so maybe he’s got an idea how to stop running back Arian Foster. The last two times the Bengals’ top ten defense played Foster in the 2011 and 2012 wild card games, Foster bolted for 153 and 140 yards, respectively.
Nov. 30 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.: Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth vs. Buccaneers RE Michael Johnson
Whitworth has been to a Pro Bowl and protected the blind side of two different quarterbacks in four playoff runs. Johnson played all three downs for the Bengals’ the past three years for defenses that finished 7, 6, and 3 in the league. Enough said.
Dec. 7 PITTSBURGH, 1 p.m.: Bengals P
This is the latest the Bengals have ever played the Steelers for the first time in a season. It’s also the first time they’ve ever played them twice in December.
Huber’s not here because he had his jaw broken in sickening fashion from a block by rookie linebacker Terence Garvin on Brown’s punt return TD the last time they played here. It is nice symmetry since it will be 51 weeks to the day. But he’s here because the Bengals have to stop Brown to win. They’ve given up two punt returns for TDs in the past three years. Both by Brown in Pittsburgh.
Dec. 14 at Cleveland, 1 p.m.: Bengals TE
Remember Whitner? He tweeted he signed with the Bengals in 2011 and an hour later he was in San Francisco. The Browns moved out Pro Bowler T.J. Ward and replaced him with the 29-year-old Whitner. Are they better? The Bengals may have to see if they can stretch the field against him.
Dec. 22 DENVER, 8:30 p.m.: Bengals DT
The Bengals have a nice streak going at PBS against Super Bowl-winning QBs. In fact, Manning is the last one to win here. The week after he beat the Bengals on Nov. 4, 2012, 31-23, the Bengals knocked off brother Eli and his Giants to get it rolling. Then last year they were unbeaten at PBS and Peko, the defense’s de facto captain, helped his crew pile up wins over Flacco, Roethlisberger, Brady, and Aaron Rodgers.
The Bengals, at 0-8, have never beaten Manning. At 0-7, the Bengals also never beat his boss, John Elway. No doubt there’ll be something on the line three days before Christmas on a Monday night that would make the holidays all that much sweeter.
Dec. 28 at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.: Bengals WLB
Head coach Marvin Lewis won’t like this. A short week, Christmas, and a road game in the crucible. You’ve got to figure the Bengals are going to be playing for something dear and the way the Steelers closed to scare the stripes off Bengaldom in the last five minutes of the last regular season, who’d be surprised if they’ve also got something on the line?
Given it is December in Heinz and the style of the two teams, how can it not be like the War of 18-12 in 2009 or the wild wild card playoff game in 2012? Burfict, the heart and soul of the Bengals defense, is on call all day against Bell, the Steelers’ formidable new meal ticket.
Lewis is 5-6 in a building where the Steelers had the NFL’s fourth best home record in the decade from 2003-12.