Updated: 10 p.m.
If the Bengals can survive the early rapids of their rocky 2008 schedule released Tuesday, their playoff run can be greased by a midseason bye and three final home games against teams they've beaten in the Marvin Lewis-Carson Palmer era.
Palmer keeps his string intact of appearing in at least one prime time game every season since becoming the starting quarterback in 2004 with a Thursday-nighter on a Nov. 20 NFL Network game at hostile Heinz Field against the AFC North champ Steelers, where Palmer is 2-2.
But the Bengals paid a price for last year's 7-9 record in the form of national exposure.
For the first time since Lewis' first season in 2003, the Bengals don't have a Sunday or Monday night game and they play all their Paul Brown Stadium games at 1 p.m., Sunday barring a change in the flex scheduling. Their only other national appearance is a 4:15 p.m. game in Dallas Oct. 5.
But Bengals like wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and defensive tackle John Thornton feel comfortable with all but two games starting Sunday at 1 p.m., including all eight Paul Brown Stadium games.
"You play, you win, you go home, you get to eat dinner with your family and watch the other games," said Thornton, always a big booster of the early kickoff. "Of course, you have to win. If you don't win you don't watch anybody. Every game gets a lot of exposure nationally. It's not like college. People know where you are."
When they came off an 8-8 record in which they lost a playoff berth in overtime of the season finale, the Bengals got four prime-time games last year, as well as three at 4:15.
Houshmandzadeh "I like playing Sunday night, I like playing Monday night," Houshmandzadeh said. "But I also don't like it. It throws off your schedule. You get extra practices, extra time waiting around. Hey, 1 p.m. Sunday? Let's go play."
And, as Thornton said with a laugh and without elaboration, "We've got a lot of things going on, so the fewer the cameras the better. We'll go under the radar."
Houshmandzadeh thinks it is clear as Doppler Radar.
"They think we stink. They don't give us any chance, so we'll just go kick everybody's (...)," he said. "If you want national exposure, make the playoffs. Like the great Cleveland Browns. I guess they're going to go 6-0 in the division and everybody else is playing for second place."
The Browns, who didn't make the playoffs last season despite going 10-6, got five prime-time assignments.
Cleveland returns Sept. 28 to the building where it saw its playoff hopes dashed in the next-to-last game of last season. Only two teams show up at PBS off a losing season, but the 5-11 Ravens don't come until Nov. 30 and the 4-12 Chiefs don't arrive until the regular-season finale Dec. 28.
One of the Bengals' prime-time games last season was the regular-season opener against the visiting Ravens in a Monday-nighter that has been flipped to a 1 p.m. game in Baltimore to open this season Sept. 7 and marks the debut of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.
Lewis is 3-2 in openers and has won the last two on the road, in Cleveland in 2005 and Kansas City in 2006. It's the fourth time in the last five years the Bengals have opened on the road, the only loss coming in Palmer's pro debut against the Jets in 2004.
Thanks to a grueling slate of 16 games with teams carrying in a combined .547 winning percentage from 2007, PBS is host to four playoff teams. One of them, Tennessee, opens the home schedule Sept. 14.
The Bengals bear the brunt of their tests before an Oct. 26 bye after their seventh game.
But what a first seven games.
Five of the seven foes won at least 10 games last year and four made the playoffs. Dallas won the NFC East at 13-3 while the runner-up Giants went 10-6 before winning the Super Bowl.
And both are on the road.
After the Bengals play the Titans, they travel to Giants Stadium Sept. 21 to play the champs in a building where they have never beaten them.
It won't be long before they go back to New York. The Bengals play the Jets there just 21 days later on Oct. 12, but some 27 years after Cincinnati's AFC champs logged the franchise's only Meadowlands victory over the Jets in 1981.
"As always, it's exciting to receive our schedule, and we know the challenges right from the start," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in a news release. "We have a division opponent on the road, the home opener against a young playoff team in Tennessee, and then the defending world champions."
Then after the Bengals try to beat the Steelers at PBS for the first time under Lewis Oct. 19, they get a bit of a breather in the form of a bye and then go on the road only once until that return engagement in Pittsburgh Nov. 20.
Cincinnati's two final road games are of the brutal variety with its first regular-season visit to the Colts' new stadium Dec. 7 and a Dec. 21 game in Cleveland. But the three final PBS games (Nov. 30 against Baltimore, Dec. 14 against Washington and Dec. 28 against the Chiefs), are against teams that the Bengals have beaten on the road with Palmer at the helm.
"Yeah, we knew it was going to be a tough schedule but it is what it is," Thornton said. "What does it really mean? Last year we were supposed to have an easy schedule, but we didn't do as well. We were supposed to beat teams like Arizona and San Francisco and we didn't, so it's tough to predict."
The Bengals Ticket Office said Tuesday it does not expect any single-game tickets to be available this season. For information about joining the Season Ticket Waiting List, click here.