Third preseason games are significant as indicators for players, with starters typically playing into third quarters of these contests. For head coach Marvin Lewis, Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills is also a dress rehearsal in which a modicum of game-planning is in order, making it a semi-revealing look at his squad’s game-day and game-prep capabilities.
1. Connecting The Dots – Lots of storylines in this pre-season game. At the top of the list is perhaps the most high-profile and nationally recognized story — Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver Tyler Boyd are visiting Buffalo for the first time since their 49-yard touchdown connection in the waning moments of last year’s finale at Baltimore defeated the Ravens and helped put the Bills in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
The play sparked a wave of goodwill from Bills fans, and in the end resulted in more than $550,000 in donations to both Dalton’s foundation and Boyd’s hometown youth sports league.
Close observers of the two organizations will say that the narratives hardly stop there, as both teams also will see their share of familiar faces on Sunday. This off-season the Bengals acquired linebacker Preston Brown as an unrestricted free agent and offensive tackle Cordy Glenn in a trade, while the Bills acquired a pair of Bengals unrestricted free agents in quarterback AJ McCarron and center Russell Bodine.
2. Position Battles – While most of the 53-man roster appears set, there are still a few spots open before the start of the 2018 campaign.
One of the most visible competitions has been the backup quarterback spot. Jeff Driskel and Matt Barkley each have a game-winning touchdown pass and have played well in windows. Overall, Driskel is 20 of 31 for 258 yard and a touchdown, while Barkley is 8 of 17 for 118 yards and a score. There is tangible intrigue at that spot.
Other highly contested position battles include finalizing the roster at the running back, wide receiver and defensive back positions. One thing the coaches keep in mind with those spots is a player’s ability to contribute on special teams. That is where a player like running back Mark Walton or cornerback and kickoff returner Darius Phillips could fit in better than others.
3. Return Of Eifert – Last week before the Cowboys preseason game when asked about Tyler Eifert’s availability, head coach Marvin Lewis responded with a “we’ll see.” Eifert dressed and went through pregame warmups, but did not see in game action.
His exclusion from the lineup last week wasn’t all that surprising, but he should play a part in the game against the Bills as he looks to round into form before the regular season starts.
The six-year pro out of Notre Dame certainly is one of the most valuable offensive pieces for the Bengals this season. When healthy, Eifert has proven to be one of the top tight ends in the league. In 2015, his last healthy season, Eifert scored 13 TDs, the most ever by a Bengals tight end and one short of the overall NFL lead.
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Eastern.
Television: The game is a national FOX-TV broadcast. The FOX affiliate in Cincinnati is WXIX-TV (Channel 19). Additional regional FOX affiliates include WGRT-TV (Ch. 45) in Dayton, WTTE-TV (Ch. 28) in Columbus, WLIO-TV (Ch. 8.2) in Lima, WDKY-TV (Ch. 56) in Lexington and WDRB-TV (Ch. 41) in Louisville. Broadcasters are Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst) and Pam Oliver (sideline reporter).
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).