With the 2021 NFL schedule set to be released Wednesday night, here's a glance at each Bengals game for their first 17-game season:
PAUL BROWN STADIUM GAMES
VIKINGS: An Old Home Week opener in the first Opening Day against an NFC team in Paul Brown Stadium history.
Mike Zimmer, the former Bengals defensive coordinator whose unit fueled 2013's unbeaten home schedule, returns for the first time as head coach with another former Bengals DC in assistant Paul Guenther. They face two of Minnesota's former starters in Bengals cornerback Trae Waynes and right tackle Riley Reiff.
And then there's one of Burrow's favorite college targets in Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson and his rookie-leading 1,400 yards from last season matched up with Waynes. Burrow's Tee Higgins, the NFL's third-leading receiver in 2020, is also on display against a Minnesota secondary with former Bengals slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander.
The last time the Bengals opened the season at home against an NFC team, they won their only regular-season August game on Aug. 31, 1997 when quarterback Jeff Blake's six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Carl Pickens beat the Cardinals, 24-21, with 38 seconds left at Riverfront Stadium.
49ERS: Look at what has gone on with these two clubs since the last time head coach Kyle Shanahan brought his club to town for Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's first PBS game. It was just two years ago but it might as well be 20.
The Niners went to the Super Bowl, foundered with the quarterback question and are going into this season off a massive trade that brought them a new franchise quarterback in Trey Lance. Meanwhile, the Bengals have gone through two massive free agencies on defense since that home opener Frisco gouged them in the running game. The only starters still around from that defense are free safety Jessie Bates III and edge Sam Hubbard.
BROWNS: The leading Comeback Player of the Year candidates in the AFC North are on display in this one with Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.
In free agency the Bengals addressed the problems Cleveland gave them in last season's sweep with a brand new trio on the corner. Trae Waynes, Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton take aim at Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins after Beckham beat them for a 41-yard touchdown pass, Higgins had a 100-yard day and Donovan Peoples-Jones escaped for a 24-yard winning touchdown catch in the last minute at PBS.
CHARGERS: A matchup of last season's top rookie quarterbacks. If the Bengals didn't take Burrow No. 1 they would have taken Justin Herbert. Before the Chargers drafted Herbert No. 6 in 2020, he won the Senior Bowl MVP while playing for a Bengals coaching staff extremely impressed with his command. Still, the Bengals never wavered on Burrow and now they meet.
CHIEFS: Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes makes his first PBS appearance as one of three NFL MVP quarterbacks to appear in Cincinnati this year, along with the Ravens' Lamar Jackson and (maybe) the Packers' Aaron Rodgers. Mahomes' video game speed offense was on display during his MVP season in a 2018 game at Arrowhead Stadium against the Bengals. He hit them for four touchdown passes when the Bengals couldn't cover the Chiefs' quickness. Now Cincy's prized young and fast linebackers (Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Markus Bailey) draw one of the assignments for which they were drafted.
JAGUARS: Depending on when Cleveland comes to town, this is the seventh or eighth PBS game featuring a battle of overall No. 1 quarterbacks. This one is Burrow against Clemson's Trevor Lawrence. The last one was a doozy when the Browns' Baker Mayfield's last-minute touchdown pass doused Burrow's 406 yards.
It's also a reunion of the 2019 national championship game when Burrow and LSU beat Lawrence and Clemson. At the moment, there are nine players from that game in this one.
Burrow brings in LSU teammates Ja'Marr Chase, tight end Thaddeus Moss and nose tackle Tyler Shelvin, plus Lawrence's favorite target in wide receiver Tee Higgins and the man who protected his blind side, Bengals right guard Jackson Carman. Lawrence has Clemson rookie running back Travis Etienne and LSU linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson.
PACKERS: Will he or won't he? Rodgers is still looking for a PBS win and to even his record against the Bengals. He's 1-2 against Cincy and even the win had to be pulled off in overtime at Lambeau Field. His lone appearance here was an unhappy one. While getting sacked four times, Rodgers threw one touchdown and had two picked during a dismal 65 passer rating in a 34-30 Bengals win in 2013.
If Rodgers isn't around, keep an eye on Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, one of Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's closer friends in the game from their time coaching with the Rams.
RAVENS: Here's one of the games why the Bengals went out on the edge to sign Trey Hendrickson and to draft Joseph Ossai, Cam Sample and Wyatt Hubert. The Bengals look to set the edge against Lamar Jackson's elusive option game after his 5-0 record against them has included three 200-yard rush games.
STEELERS: The Bengals beat the Steelers, 27-17, last December with their third-string quarterback, with their leading receiver not making a catch and without their bell cow running back. They'll also start the season with a defense that has seven different starters than the one that held the Steelers to 244 yards.
ON THE ROAD
AT BEARS: If Andy Dalton is still starting instead of rookie Justin Fields, it is the 15th time in Bengals history they've faced one of their former starting quarterbacks. After Dalton led the Cowboys to a win at Paul Brown Stadium last December, he's trying to join Jeff Blake (Ravens, Cardinals) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Bills, Dolphins) to beat his old team with two different teams. It was Fitzpatrick's overtime win over Dalton in Miami at the end of the 2019 season that gave the Bengals Burrow and Burrow could get his first chance against the man he replaced.
AT BRONCOS: The best players at their position from the draft's first round figure to man up at some point in this game. The Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase, the first wide receiver taken at No. 5, could line up against No. 9 Patrick Surtain, the second cornerback taken even though many believed him to be the top guy at that spot.
AT BROWNS: Forget Burrow-Mayfield. Mayfield is 5-1 against the Bengals because of his running game. Running back Nick Chubb has a career yards per of 4.8 against them and running back Kareem Hunt is over five. But the Bengals feel like they've beefed up this offseason. Former Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, healthy nose tackle D.J. Reader and 350-pound rookie tackle Tyler Shelvin go against a Cleveland interior offensive line ranked No. 1 in the league last year by Pro Football Focus.
AT LIONS: Taylor faces one of his old quarterbacks in Jared Goff's new city. Taylor was the quarterbacks coach when Goff took the Rams to the Super Bowl and he hopes the run against Lions quarterbacks drafted No. 1` overall continues. The Bengals are 3-0 against Matthew Stafford.
AT JETS: Call this one the Frank Pollack Bowl. Pollack, the Bengals new offensive line coach and run game coordinator, came over from the Jets during a stint he received plaudits for what he got out of first-round left tackle Mekhi Becton last season. Now Pollack is working with another first-rounder at left tackle in the Bengals' Jonah Williams.
Both have big assignments in this one because they're facing each team's huge free-agent signings on the edge. Williams gets old friend Carl Lawson and Becton gets 13.5-sack man Trey Hendrickson.
AT RAIDERS: Look at the trenches in this one. Vegas quarterback Derek Carr's offensive line has disappeared in front of his eyes. Right tackle Trent Brown is gone, apparently to be replaced by first-round pick Alex Leatherwood. Center Rodney Hudson is also gone. The Bengals coveted Carman, a second rounder, more than most linemen taken in the first and second rounds. The Raiders brought in veteran pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue (16 sacks in last two seasons) to aid a defense that had just 21 sacks last year. A game that could be decided on the edge.
AT RAVENS: Baltimore has that blanket in the secondary with Pro Bowl cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, along with old first-rounder Jimmy Smith. The Bengals haven't scored more than 17 points against them in the last four games. But Burrow, Boyd, Chase and Higgins give the Bengals a much different look on the perimeter than what Baltimore has been accustomed to the last few years.
AT STEELERS: Bengals strong safety Vonn Bell vs. Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Road Version. The Bengals are hoping Bell's hit on Smith-Schuster that resulted in a key turnover in last year's Monday night win sets a tone for this season and the rivalry. Smith-Schuster re-signed with the Steelers and Bell takes his place as the Bengals' most experienced defensive starter with 77 NFL games.