Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.
Television: The game will air on FOX-TV. In the Bengals' home region, it will be carried by WXIX-TV (Ch. 19) in Cincinnati, WGRT-TV (Ch. 45) in Dayton, WDKY-TV (Ch. 56) in Lexington, and WTTE-TV (Ch. 28) in Columbus. Broadcasters are Chris Myers (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst) and Jennifer Hale (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).
Setting the scene: The Bengals open their 2021 regular season this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium.
"It's an exciting time right now," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "We feel good about the guys we have on this team and where we are as we head into the regular season. The Vikings provide a significant challenge for us right off the bat, but it'll be great being back out there and taking that on in front of a packed Paul Brown Stadium."
It's been an eventful offseason for Cincinnati, highlighted by new additions to the roster and the return of numerous healthy starters. When the Bengals take the field on Sunday, only seven of the 22 players who started last season's finale are expected to line up again as starters. Nearly half (22 of 46) of the players who saw action in that finale, including eight starters, are not on Cincinnati's current 53-player roster.
Last year was perhaps most infamous, though, for the number of key Bengals whose seasons ended early due to injury. Of the 15 listed starters on this year's depth chart who were with Cincinnati last season, five saw their 2020 seasons end early due to injuries — QB Joe Burrow, LOT Jonah Williams, HB Joe Mixon, NT D.J. Reader and LB Logan Wilson. Two more — WR Tee Higgins and C Trey Hopkins — left the finale with injuries.
The most anticipated return is that of Burrow, Cincinnati's second-year QB who missed the final six games of his rookie campaign due to a left knee injury. After a lengthy rehab process, Burrow was medically cleared in time to take the first snap of training camp on July 28 and has participated fully in every practice since (save for one scheduled rest day). The 24-year old native of Athens, Ohio vowed shortly after the injury that he would start the 2021 opener, and it is expected that he will fulfill that promise when the offense takes the field on Sunday.
"I'm feeling great right now physically," Burrow said after the preseason finale, during which he played three snaps. It was his only game action of the preseason. "We're ready to go. I'm excited about this next week, and I'm excited to get a game plan and get ready.
"I'm excited that preseason is over and we can focus on the first game. We're tired of going against each other in practice each day, hitting each other and getting into fights, since we see each other each day. It's going to be nice to get out there and hit someone else when it counts."
One of the other hotly anticipated storylines this Sunday revolves around the return of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, who was a popular and successful defensive coordinator for the Bengals from 2008-13. The Bengals boasted top-10 defenses in four of Zimmer's six seasons in Cincinnati ('09 and '11-13), with his defenses helping power the team to the playoffs in each of those four seasons. Sunday will be Zimmer's first regular-season game back in Cincinnati since he took the Vikings job in 2014.
"Mike Zimmer is one of the best coaches in this league," Taylor told the media this week. "He was a tremendous defensive coordinator for a long time. I remember we always had trouble with the Bengals when I was on the staff in Miami. And then when I was with the Rams, we played in Minnesota in 2017 and they beat us down pretty good."
Taylor, whose background is on offense, will lead Burrow and the Bengals against a formidable Vikings defense on Sunday.
"They're going to be well-coached," Taylor said. "They're probably one of the smartest defenses you'll play against. Their front is where you have to start with them, but then you have the intelligence and the talent at that second level with Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, who are as good a linebacker tandem as any over the last decade or two in pro football. And then you have Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson in the back end — those are two of the smartest DBs you're ever going to face."
The game also features a number of other connections beyond Zimmer. Vikings senior defensive assistant Paul Guenther served as Bengals defensive coordinator from 2014-17, after Zimmer left for Minnesota. Vikings co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer (Mike Zimmer's son) was on Cincinnati's staff in 2013. Two Bengals starters — ROT Riley Reiff and CB Trae Waynes — previously played for the Vikings, while Vikings LB Nick Vigil and CB Mackensie Alexander are former Bengals.
Sunday will also mark a reunion of sorts between three high-profile college teammates — Bengals QB Joe Burrow, Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase and Vikings WR Justin Jefferson. Together at Louisiana State in 2019, Burrow, Chase and Jefferson formed one of the top passing attacks in college football history and helped lead LSU to an undefeated season and national championship.
"We made each other a lot of money (laughs)," Burrow said of the reunion. "I think I made a little more though, based on my draft slot (laughs).
"Justin is a great guy and a great player. He was my go-to guy for my first year at LSU, and then Ja'Marr emerged and I could take my pick. Justin is a lot like Ja'Marr — they both are really smart players, and you don't have to tell him something more than once. People ask me if I was surprised by the year he had last year. No, I wasn't surprised at all. He's a great player that works really hard. I knew exactly what was going to happen."
Take a walk down memory lane looking back at some of the best images from the Bengals vs. Vikings series through the years.
The series: Minnesota leads by just one game, 7-6, but the series has been dominated by the home team. The Bengals lead 6-1 in Cincinnati, but have not won in six visits to Minnesota. The Vikings won the most recent meeting in Minnesota in 2017, 34-7.
Here are two memorable previous Bengals-Vikings meetings:
- Minnesota's 29-21 home victory in 1989 was the regular-season finale for both teams, a nationally televised Christmas night contest in which the Vikings clinched the NFC Central title at 10-6, while the defending AFC Champion Bengals were eliminated from the playoffs at 8-8. Former University of Cincinnati kicker Rich Karlis booted five field goals for the Vikings.
- Cincinnati's 27-24 home victory on Christmas Eve in 1995 featured a Bengals rally from a 21-point deficit, tying the biggest comeback in franchise history. The Bengals trailed 24-3 at halftime, but finished a 24-0 second-half surge on Doug Pelfrey's 51-yard field goal as time expired.
Bengals against ex-coaches: This week's game will mark the 30th time the Bengals have faced a team whose head coach is a former Bengals assistant coach or head coach. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was Bengals defensive coordinator from 2008-13.
The Bengals own a 16-12-1 record in the 29 previous meetings against their former assistants, including an 8-2-1 in their last 11 meetings. This week's game will be head coach Zac Taylor's first contest against a former Bengals coach.
Though it is not the case this week, there have been 11 instances in which a former Bengals assistant faces Cincinnati as a head coach against the Bengals head coach under whom he served. The Bengals are 7-3-1 in those 11 meetings.
Bengals career records watch: With an eye looking to the Bengals' 2021 campaign, here is a look at potential upcoming movement in the team's career records book (regular-season):
- Bengals P Kevin Huber has played in 190 career Bengals games, two shy of QB Ken Anderson (192) for third place all-time. CB Ken Riley (207) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
- Bengals LS Clark Harris has played in 184 career Bengals games, one shy of OT Anthony Munoz (185) for sixth place all-time.
- Bengals S Brandon Wilson has two career kickoff returns for TDs, tied with S/CB Tremain Mack for the Bengals' all-time lead.
At the top of the list: Here's a look at where the Bengals ranked — both individually and in team categories — among the top 10 in the NFL in 2020.
- Fourth in fourth-down percentage (70.4; 19 of 27).
- Sixth in lowest opponent completion percentage (62.8).
JESSIE BATES III
- Tied for sixth in passes defensed (15).
- Tied for third in defensive fumble recoveries (two).
BENGALS SPECIAL TEAMS
- Sixth in average drive start on offense (26.4-yard line).
- Sixth in average yards allowed per punt return (5.9).
- Tied for longest punt (72).
- Seventh in net punting average (42.8).
- Seventh in gross punting average (47.2).
- Tied for second in kickoff returns of at least 40 yards (five).
- Sixth in average yards per kickoff return (26.2).
Roster flip noticeable in Year 3: Zac Taylor took over as Bengals head coach in 2019, and throughout his now three-year tenure there has been a steady but noticeable churn of the roster. Of the 53 players on the current roster (as of Tuesday, Sept. 7), only 13 suited up as Bengals prior to Taylor's arrival. That means 40 current Bengals — or 75.5 percent of the roster — have joined Cincinnati since 2019.
Cincinnati's roster overhaul has especially hit overdrive since the end of last season. Twenty-three current Bengals — that's 43.4 percent of the 53-player roster — enter the 2021 season having never suited up in a game for Cincinnati. (It should be noted that figure includes three players who were with Cincinnati previously but never played — CB Trae Waynes, OT Isaiah Prince and TE Mitchell Wilcox.)
Chase, Burrow reunite in Cincinnati: One of the most statistically accomplished QB-WR duos in college football history has reunited in Cincinnati. Bengals QB Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, and WR Ja'Marr Chase, the No. 5 overall pick in the '21 draft, are now teammates again after helping power the Louisiana State Tigers to a college football national championship in 2019.
With Burrow as his QB in 2019, Chase set single-season SEC records for receiving yards (1780) and TDs (20), en route to winning the Biletnikoff Award as college football's top receiver. Burrow, of course, went on to win the Heisman Trophy as college football's top player that year, after setting numerous NCAA and SEC passing records.
"Ja'Marr is one of the best receivers I've evaluated in the draft," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "You can see the chemistry that he and Joe had together in that 2019 season. He comes in and adds to a great receiver room that we already have, and gives us one more great playmaker. Adding a guy like Ja'Marr when we already have Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, you're able to put pressure on the defense."