After looking at the NFL schedule, the Bengals must really be hoping the lockout ends quickly enough to start the season on time.
They don't play a 2010 playoff team or a team that had a winning record last season until the sixth game when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning makes his second career Paul Brown Stadium appearance at 1 p.m. on Oct. 16. And they don't face a head coach not making his debut until the fourth game when they host Chan Gailey's Bills on Oct. 2.
The opening stretch signifies the much easier route than the Bengals had in 2010, when they went 4-12 against the NFL's toughest schedule. Now facing teams with a combined record of 121-135 last season, their .473 strength of schedule would be the seventh easiest last year.
With backup quarterback Jordan Palmer telling the Associated Press on Tuesday the working assumption is wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens won't return, the reconfigured Bengals offense under new coordinator Jay Gruden and perhaps a rookie quarterback braces for early-season challenges. It begins on the road against Cleveland in a 1 p.m. opener Sept. 11 and in Denver the next week in a 4:15 p.m. start. It's the first time the Bengals have gone back-to-back on the road to open a season since 1996 and they haven't won a Mile High since Boobie Clark outrushed Floyd Little, 55-51, on Nov. 9, 1975.
|Fri.||Aug. 12||at Detroit||7:30 p.m.||Ford Field|
|Sun.||Aug. 21||at N.Y. Jets||7 p.m.||New Meadowlands Stadium|
|Thu.||Aug. 25||CAROLINA||7 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Thu.||Sept. 1||INDIANAPOLIS||7 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Sept. 11||at Cleveland||1 p.m.||Cleveland Browns Stadium|
|Sun.||Sept. 18||at Denver||4:15 p.m.||INVESCO Field at Mile High|
|Sun.||Sept. 25||SAN FRANCISCO||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Oct. 2||BUFFALO||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Oct. 9||at Jacksonville||1 p.m.||Everbank Field|
|Sun.||Oct. 16||INDIANAPOLIS||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Oct. 30||at Seattle||4:15 p.m.||Qwest Field|
|Sun.||Nov. 6||at Tennessee||4:05 p.m.||LP Field|
|Sun.||Nov. 13||PITTSBURGH||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Nov. 20||at Baltimore||1 p.m.||M&T Bank Stadium|
|Sun.||Nov. 27||CLEVELAND||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Dec. 4||at Pittsburgh||1 p.m.||Heinz Field|
|Sun.||Dec. 11||HOUSTON||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Dec. 18||at St. Louis||1 p.m.||Edward Jones Dome|
|Sat.||Dec. 24||ARIZONA||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Jan. 1||BALTIMORE||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|All times listed are Eastern|
|*Denotes a game subject to flexible scheduling|
Yet the numbers help Gruden. In those first five games the Bengals face just one defense that finished higher than 22nd last season. That one team, the 49ers, finished 13th and open PBS Sept. 25 at 1 p.m. with three defenders that broke in with high picks in Cincinnati in defensive lineman Justin Smith and linebackers Takeo Spikes and Ahmad Brooks. The Bengals also face three new head coaches in the first three games: Cleveland's Pat Shurmur, Denver's John Fox, and San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh.
The new Bengals West Coast offense is hoping to take flight against a schedule lacking a plethora of defensive giants. After they play the Niners, the Bengals play just four games against units that finished higher than 19th. No surprise when and where. They get Dick Lebeau's No. 2 Steelers at PBS on Oct. 10 and in Pittsburgh Dec. 4 and the 10th-ranked Ravens in Baltimore on Nov. 20 and at PBS to close the season Jan. 1.
All the PBS games are at 1 p.m., including the Saturday Christmas Eve game against the Cardinals as the Bengals' bid for national visibility took a major hit with last year's 10-game losing streak. The only games they don't play at 1 p.m. are against the Broncos and back-to-back 4 p.m. starts in Seattle and Tennessee Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, respectively.
Those games against the Seahawks and Titans mark head coach Marvin Lewis' biggest challenge logistically. The Bengals have to get right back on the road after the haul to Seattle in what amounts to a short week. But the two games come after the Oct. 23 bye in the seventh week of the season.
After playing the Colts heading into that bye week, the only times the Bengals face a team with a winning record are when they play AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
The home opener is the latest in team history, beating by a day the Sept. 24, 1972 Riverfront Stadium opener against the Steelers. The game also marks Lewis passing Sam Wyche for most games coached in Bengals history with 133.
The Bengals close with two home games for the first time since 1997 when Arizona and Baltimore finish it off.
"I'm excited not only to have our last two at home, but three of our last four," Lewis said in a news release. "And obviously the stretch of division games in November and December is going to be a key for us."
November has been the best month under Lewis at 18-14-1, followed by September at 13-13, December-January at 18-21, and October at 11-21.
Seven of the final eight games are subject to the NFL's flexible scheduling. Any of the seven games could be switched to late afternoon kickoffs, or to night kickoffs on NBC's Sunday Night Football. The last Bengals game to be flexed was the 2009 season finale, when the Meadowlands' last game was switched from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night. The Christmas Eve game against the Cardinals won't be flexed.
Also Tuesday the Bengals announced both PBS preseason games are Thursday at 7 p.m., Aug. 25 vs. Carolina and Sept. 1 vs. the Colts.
A breakdown of the defenses Gruden and Co. go against:
DATE TEAM 2010 DEFENSIVE RANKING
9/11 at Cleveland 22
9/18 at Denver 32
9/25 San Fran 13
10/2 Buffalo 24
10/9 at Jacksonville 28
10/16 Indianapolis 20
10/30 at Seattle 27
11/6 at Tennessee 26
11/13 Pittsburgh 2
11/20 at Baltimore 10
11/27 Cleveland 22
12/4 at Pittsburgh 2
12/11 Houston 30
12/18 at St. Louis 19
12/24 Arizona 29
1/1 Baltimore 10