The way last season ended and the way this one begins Sunday in New York (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against a 10-win Jets team on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 makes it one of the more intense Bengals openers in years.
The Bengals.com Media Roundtable reflects the coin-flip aspect of it all and is split down the middle on an intriguing game that features Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick making his third start against the team that gave him his start and Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis dueling among their 12 Pro Bowls.
Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, a starting guard in their last win in New York in 1981, gives Cincinnati the edge with the experience that has accounted for five straight post-season berths.
But Paul Dehner Jr., of The Cincinnati Enquirer calls it a tight one for the Jets with the NFL's No. 4 defense in 2015 carrying the day against a Bengals offense searching to establish weapons for quarterback Andy Dalton.
Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, who has covered the Jets since the days of Ken O'Brien, sees it the same way with Dalton lacking his usual targets on the perimeter.
It takes Alex Marvez to force the stalemate. Marvez, NFL columnist for Sporting News.com and Sirius XM NFL Radio host, picks the Bengals with Dalton getting the nod over Fitzpatrick in an overdue bill from the state of New Jersey.
Let's go around The Table:
I think Sheldon Richardson being suspended is big. The Jets have a different dynamic with him in there. He played over 180 snaps of outside linebacker. He played defensive end. He played defensive tackle. That's a versatile weapon they don't have, but they still have some good guys up front.
I think just like an AFC North game this one is going to be decided up front by the big boys. All the skill guys, if they don't have time to operate it's a moot point. Fitzy is so hot and cold, he's so streaky. It's going to be an interesting matchup between the brilliance of Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's Double A gap blitz against the Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick trying to confuse him both at the line of scrimmage and coverages. Guenther can run 25 different blitzes and coverages out of that A gap. I don't care how smart you are. There are probably going to be mistakes made. It's not just the quarterback. Over the years Zim (Mike Zimmer) and Paul have had Aaron Rodgers salute and Tom Brady shaking his head. Really good quarterbacks looking around saying, "Holy crap." Joe Flacco. Ben Roethlisberger. And they see it twice a year. It's one thing looking at it on tape. When you're up against it in the flesh it's a different deal.
It's going to be interesting to see if Revis just shadows A.J. Green. That's what he's done. Take the best receiver and move all over the field. Maybe they'll double A.J. and let Revis cover someone else. Will that person beat Revis one-on-one? It's going to be interesting to see how they go. Revis is still a big playmaker. He lost his share of battles last year. Everyone says he's lost half a step. About three time he got cooked, but he had five interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Nine takeaways is still a pretty good guy to have out there.
THE EDGE: Bengals. The home crowd is a factor, obviously in an opener like that and the uncertainty of what everyone is exactly going to do. I just believe in the Bengals veteran experience. They've been there, done that. It's going to boil down to what it always does. Who takes care of the football and who's smartest with the ball. Over 50 percent of the games last year were decided by a touchdown or less. This one will be, too. Look at who the Bengals start with in the first three games. Teams that had 10 wins, 10 wins, 12 wins. Quite a challenge.
Tyler Boyd is one of those new targets that has to step up.
The tough part this week is finding a rhytym quickly with a lot of new pieces against a really good defense .The Jets were one of the best teams against the run last year. They still have a lot of talent up front. What looks to be the Bengals' piece of continuity is the running game with the line and running backs all back.
But it's not realistic to think they'll just be able to go out and pound it and move the Jets up and down the field. They're going to have to use the passing game and that means the new guys have to make plays. A.J. Green, you hope, can beat up on anybody, but it is Darrelle Revis out there. It comes down to, are wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell going to make some plays for you and move the chains? Tyler Eifert's coming out party w
as in last year's opener. That was all about the Raiders not knowing that Eifert was going to be that guy, he just owned them.
We've talked about new pieces on offense, but the Bengals have got that continuity from a great defensive team. And you take a quarterback in Fitzpatrick that is not in the top half of the league and the Bengals typically feast on that.
The Jets have a right tackle situation that's bad news right now and Bengals left end Carlos Dunlap had 13.5 sacks last season. There are clearly matchups they feel really good about.
It's going to be a slug fest. I don't see any other way. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has done really well playing the field position differential game. Last year they were so good at that. They've been in the top five the last four, five years. Maybe it's deciding to punt on fourth and 1 from the 50. To play field position and get a short field coming back ends up in a big play. In these types of games you have to be comfortable winning, 16-14. Maybe it's a special teams play. Maybe it's a big play to A.J., whatever. They have to find a way to scrounge out points and their defense shouldn't give up much Sunday. That's their recipe, anyway.
THE EDGE: Jets, 16-14. Road opener. So many new pieces on offense. It's going to take a few weeks, particularly without Eifert, for this offense to get going,. Against a defense so strong against the run, I just think points are going to be hard to come by. I lean toward the home team on a pretty emotional day.
Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth's offensive line needs a big effort against the Jets' run stuffers.
The Jets are pretty healthy on defense. Ten of the 11 starters have a year in Todd Bowles' system, so there should be no growing pains. I think they can neutralize A.J. Green with either Revis singled up on him or doubling him two other guys and they can really over play the running game. I think the Bengals might be shy one or two weapons on the perimeter.
It's a pretty solid secondary. The only new guys is Buster Skrine, who moves up to a starting role. Last year he was the nickel, so, when they go three receivers he'll go in the slot and they bring in Marcus Williams. Williams is OK. He's not the greatest tackler in the world. He can be picked on for sure. I think that's where the Bengals will go. The safeties are good. Calvin Pryor, the kid out of Louisville, is ready to explode this year. He's a really good player who is going to have a real break-out year.
On Saturday, September 10, 2016 the Bengals visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York.
They're a multiple front team. Don't forget Sheldon Richardson isn't playing in this game. He's suspended. But they've still got Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams and I think Leonard Williams is going to have a really big year. Williams plays inside. They're very versatile. They can play inside and outside. They're all 300-pound guys. None of them are speed rushers, but they're big and can move. Williams played a little nose tackle in the preseason. He can play anywhere. The big question is they lost their nose tackle David Harrison and he's really a good run stopper. I expect the Bengals will attack them up the middle to see how they handle the run. Steve McLendon, the former Steeler, is their new nose tackle, so I think they'll attack him early.
On offense they've got a veteran group. A smart group. Six starters over 30 on offense. First time they've got a new left tackle in 11 years with D'Brickshaw Ferguson gone. The only two new guys are Ryan Clady at left tackle and Matt Forte at running back, both solid veterans. It's a very professional, savvy group of guys. Will they hold up over a long season? I don't know, but they should be OK in the first game.
Fitzpatrick had 15 interceptions last year. I think he'd like to get that down, but he had a really good year. If he can duplicate those numbers, the Jets are going to go far in the playoffs. You wonder if he can do it two years in a row. Last year they played a very easy schedule and this year is a killer schedule.
Right tackle is a big concern for the Jets. The regular is on the PUP list. The Jets aren't saying who'll start. It's going to be Ben Ijalana or Brent Qvale, neither who has started a game in the NFL. They're also saying they might rotate, maybe on a series by series basis. They're leaving that up in the air. It's going to be a problem. They'll have to use a tight end on that side to help, for sure.
They've got brand-new special teams. A new coordinator this year in Brad Boyer, a former NFL player. Their special teams were horrible last season. Really bad. They've shown some good things in the preseason. The big question is their return game. They're trotting out a rookie. They've got Jalin Marshall, an undrafted rookie. He put up some good numbers at The Ohio State University, so we'll see how he adjusts. He's a confident kid. I don't think he'll be distracted by the big game. They also have a rookie punter. An Australian. He had a pretty good preseason. They really had no other punters in camp. I think he'll be OK. He's new at holding on kick placements. Keep an eye on that.
THE EDGE: Jets, 24-20. They've won five straight home season openers. I think it's the defense being a veteran group. I think they can neutralize Dalton to Green. Teams have a hard time running on the Jets. I think they'll be able to stop the Bengals running game. I think the Jets will have some problems moving the ball, but I think they can do some things on the perimeter with wide receiver Brandon Marshall and they'll make enough plays out there to win the game.
The big question is how to compensate for the loss of No. 2 and No 3 wide receivers in terms of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, plus the absence of Tyler Eifert? The question becomes can the Bengals run effectively on the Jets? A.J. Green is a great receiver, but he can be taken out by Darrelle Revis and a roll of safeties. This is where the Bengals offensive line, which has long been a strength of this team needs to have a big game against that Jets to take pressure off Andy because the weapons aren't quite there yet.
In the third year under Paul Guenther I think there's a comfort level with the Bengals defense. Not having Vontaze Burfict hurts, but it's a sound unit. To me this is a low-scoring type of game. It comes down to the end. Where a team like New England can sit Rob Gronkowski and play without Tom Brady against Arizona, there's no ramifications there. In this case it's a conference game and you never know if comes back to bite you.
THE EDGE, Bengals, 17-14. For some reason I like the Bengals even though they haven't won in New York since Ken Anderson's heyday in 1981. I think it's a grind-it-out game. I think the Bengals can move the ball on these guys. I think the defense will step up. It's a great litmus test. It's really almost a toss-up game, but I think the Bengals are overdue against these guys. I think they want to get that taste out of their mouths from last year and the best way to do that is go out and win and keep rolling and don't look back. I think they're good enough to do that. I can't wait to see Andy Dalton I think he's in for a special year.
Carlos Dunlap is ready to welcome the Jets right tackle to the league. Both of them.
THE BOTTOM LINE
You won't get a better game than this on Opening Day.
In the Bengals you have veteran crew that's been to the postseason five straight years with the NFL's third best road record during that stretch. In the Jets you have a 10-win team with the NFL's fourth best defense and an offense that starts six players older than 30.
In a one-score game, a mistake is probably going to decide it, but there won't be too many. Both teams have right tackles making their first NFL starts and an undrafted rookie punt and kick returner making their first catches. But other than, everybody's been there before.
Circle left end Carlos Dunlap's matchup with the neophyte right tackle, especially if the Jets rotate them. As Dunlap said this week, the Bengals should have a bigger advantage because the tackle can't get into a groove while Dunlap and his career-high 13.5 sacks can settle into the game.
But for how long? Dunlap indicated that the Bengals are going back to the days of 2012 when they regularly played with eight defensive linemen. They seem enthusiastic about the idea of having enough gas in the fourth quarter, but that's all they have at the moment is eight defensive linemen with two D-tackles who were going to be in the rotation on season-ending injured reserve.
Another matchup to circle is the Bengals new wide receivers, Brandon LaFell and second-rounder Tyler Boyd, working against Revis and Co. When the Bengals pulled off Opening Day wins in 2014 and 2015 in Baltimore and Oakland, respectively, they scored on the first series and each time Dalton went heavy to Eifert, his security blanket down the middle.
So the '14 opener might be a bit instructive. The Bengals lost Eifert for the season that day after just nine snaps and starting wide receiver Marvin Jones never played that season.
When they beat Baltimore, 23-17, they got a monster game from Green, with more than half his yards coming on the 77-yard TD bomb that won it as the clock ticked under five minutes. But running back Giovani Bernard was the second leading receiver with six catches for 62 yards and the next wide receivers were Mohamed Sanu with four catches for just 36 yards and Brandon Tate with four catches for 19 yards. And the running game never got off the ground with 79 yards on 26 carriers.
So yes, it's nice to have defense. But you'd like to think LaFell and Boyd can come up bigger than Sanu and Tate did that day.
Fitzpatrick threw 15 interceptions last season and while the Bengals no longer have NFL interceptions leader Reggie Nelson, they'll be looming back there. In the last few seasons they've been very effective against the pass. Last year they ranked third in picks and second in fewest TD passes.
It's the first game in the post-Leon Hall era at the slot corner but their first option, Darqueze Dennard (ankle) apparently isn't ready and Josh Shaw gets the nod against a very good slot receiver in Eric Decker. Shaw, a second-year player, basically has just one game under his belt in the slot, but he played well last year in Cleveland. Decker, ranked 11th out of 17 slot receivers by profootballfocus.com last season and had seven TDs working inside.
But the most important matchup is no doubt the Bengals running game vs. the Jets front four that finished No 2 against the run last season. If running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill can get a foothold, that swings the edge toward the Bengals. If not, that's a lot of pressure for Dalton and his new targets to negotiate.
But then, Dalton always seems to find something amid all the unknowns. He did that in '11 when he was a rookie in Cleveland. He did it when he found Green in 2014 late and then again in 2015 when he found Eifert all day in Oakland.
He's got a knack of coming up with something when the season is shiny and new and in a hostile environment. He's 3-2 in road openers (that's all he knows) and he's 12-5 in September. Not to mention 24-14 in his 38 career road starts.
Bengals travel to New York to prepare for their week 1 game against the Jets.