Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.
Television: CBS broadcast with Spero Dedes (play-by-play), Adam Archuleta (analyst) and Melanie Collins (sideline reporter). The game will air in the Bengals home market on WKRC-TV (Channel 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Channel 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Channel 27) in Lexington, Ky.
Radio: Coverage 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 Cincinnati Bengals begin their 50th season this week, hosting the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, and the team surely can honor its past in no better fashion than by winning Game 1 and laying the groundwork for a bright immediate future.
The Bengals went to the playoffs five straight seasons from 2011-15, something only four NFL teams accomplished during that span, and the team seeks to rebound from a 6-9-1 setback in '16. A win in the 2017 regular-season opener against an AFC North Division rival certainly would be a good first step in that journey.
"Now that the regular season is here, the focus changes," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "Everything counts. We have to be ready to go."
The Bengals begin their golden campaign with many reasons to be optimistic.
On offense, as always, it starts with the quarterback. And Andy Dalton returns as the Bengals' all-time leader in career passer rating (89.1), with the best regular-season winning percentage (.613, on a record of 56-35-2) of any quarterback in team history with 10 or more starts.
The offense struggled to produce in the fourth quarters of several games last season and Dalton was sacked as many times (41) as in the two previous seasons combined, while the team overall suffered from crucial missed placekicks and multiple season-ending injuries at key positions. Despite all that, however, things were not very far off the mark. The Bengals' last five losses came by a total of just 16 points (an average of 3.2 per game), and a primary reason those games remained so close was the steady play of Dalton. He may not have matched his overall statistics from 2015 — which included a Bengals-record 106.3 passer rating — but his stats still were very good. He completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 4206 yards, 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 91.8 passer rating. Lewis called it Dalton's best season so far.
And Dalton enters the 2017 regular season with nearly a full lineup of offensive weapons.
WR A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert, the team's top two receiving threats, are expected to take the field at the same time on Sunday. They were fully ready and in the lineup together for only two games in 2016. Green, a seventh-year player, already is a six-time Pro Bowler who stands at No. 2 on the team's all-time receiving yards list (7135). He was on pace last year for the best season of an already remarkable career before playing only two snaps in the last seven games, due to a hamstring injury. And Eifert, a fifth-year player who made the Pro Bowl with 13 TDs in 2015, played in only eight games in '16 due to ankle and back injuries early and late in the year.
In addition to Green and Eifert, the Bengals return HBs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Hill, a fourth-year player, has been the team's leading rusher each of the last three seasons. He has scored 29 regular-season rushing TDs since the Bengals drafted him in 2014, and that's tied with Philadelphia's LeGarrette Blount for tops in the NFL over that span. Bernard, now in his fifth year, is a high-impact dual threat as a rusher and a receiver. He has led Bengals RBs in receiving in each of his four seasons. He has made a remarkably
speedy recovery from a torn ACL he suffered in Game 10 on Nov. 20 last season, having been cleared for full-speed practice and games since the first day of training camp.
The Bengals also sport a new trio of rookie offensive threats — WR John Ross, HB Joe Mixon and WR Josh Malone. Though he may miss the Ravens game with a left knee injury he suffered in the Bengals' final preseason game, Ross was the Bengals' first-round pick out of Washington (ninth overall), and he brings record-setting speed to the team. He clocked an exceptional 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine — considered to be a combine record — after posting career totals of 114 catches, 1729 receiving yards and 22 receiving TDs over three seasons with the Huskies. Second-round pick Mixon, a 6-foot-1, 228-pound HB with excellent speed for his size, posted lofty career totals of 300 carries for 2027 yards (6.8 average) and 17 TDs, as well as 65 receptions for 894 yards (13.8) and nine TDs at Oklahoma, despite splitting time in the Sooners' backfield. In the preseason, Mixon repeatedly displayed an ability to avoid, shed and outrun would-be tacklers. Malone, a fourth-round selection, not only was a deep-ball-specialist at Tennessee with 104 career receptions for 1608 yards (15.5 average) and 14 TDs, he also posted a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the combine, third-best among WRs and eighth overall.
When looking at the offense, however, all eyes will be focused on the team's overhauled offensive line, which lists new starters at three positions. The Bengals lost two veteran offensive linemen in free agency this offseason — 12th-year OT Andrew Whitworth (signed with the Los Angeles Rams) and sixth-year G Kevin Zeitler (signed with the Cleveland Browns). Both were longtime starters and their absence will be felt for sure, but the Bengals had prepared for O-line departures by selecting OTs Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the first and second rounds, respectively, in the 2015 draft. Ogbuehi started 11 games at ROT in 2016, but enters this season as the starting LOT. Fisher opens as the starter at ROT.
Taking over at RG is Trey Hopkins. While he may be listed as a second-year player, Hopkins certainly is more than one year removed from his rookie season. He originally signed with the Bengals as a college free agent in 2014, and has been with the team in the three seasons since. He spent his entire rookie season on Reserve/Injured and virtually all of '15 and '16 on the practice squad.
On defense in 2016, Cincinnati had a lot to be proud of. The Bengals closed with a stretch of seven games in which they held opponents under 20 points six times and allowed a (seven-game) average of only 15.0. The effort pushed Cincinnati into a top-10 NFL finish in fewest points allowed for the full season, ranking eighth at 19.7 points per game. The Bengals also rose into the top 10 in defensive red-zone TD percentage, ranking seventh in the NFL, allowing TDs on only 51.0 percent of opponent chances (25 of 49). Cincinnati also finished '16 with 17 interceptions, just one off the NFL lead shared by Baltimore, Kansas City and San Diego.
While all of those statistics stack up in the Bengals' favor, several changes to the roster on the defensive side of the ball have coaches feeling pretty good about improving on those numbers in 2017.
In the front seven, there are three new names listed as starters in the team's 4-3 base unit — one on the line and two at LB — while most of the backup positions have been stocked with a large number of promising young prospects. Longtime starting NT Domata Peko, a Bengals fourth-round draft pick in 2006 and a usual starter since '07, signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency.
Splitting what used to be Peko's snaps will be new starter Pat Sims and second-year DT Andrew Billings. Gone at linebacker now are veterans Rey Maualuga and Karlos Dansby. Going into 2017, second-year player Nick Vigil gets the nod at SLB. Vigil, the team's third-round draft pick last year, played in all 16 games as a rookie and recorded 14 tackles on defense and seven tackles on special teams. He lines up next to Kevin Minter, a fifth-year player the Bengals signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Arizona Cardinals in March. Minter started every game for the Cardinals over last two seasons and finished second on the team in tackles each of those years. He is listed as the starter at MLB.
The Bengals' depth chart has always underlined the names of rookies, and when gazing at the first regular-season depth chart in this weekly news release, it's hard not to notice the large number of underlined names listed as backups in the team's front seven. All three backup LBs are rookies (Carl Lawson, Hardy Nickerson and Jordan Evans), as are two of the four backups on the defensive line (DE Jordan Willis and DT Ryan Glasgow). And the other two backups listed on the line (DE Chris Smith and DT Billings) also are among those players expected to play their first snaps as Bengals on Sunday against the Ravens.
While such a large youth movement, on the surface, may not sound like a positive occurrence, fans who watched the Bengals' preseason games will have little doubt that the overall collection of those prospects will improve the team's defense this season. Smith, Willis and Lawson were repeatedly impressive as pass rushers in preseason. Evans and Nickerson were noticeable hustling down ball carriers, and Billings and Glasgow were frequently seen stuffing the middle of the line.
In the secondary, the Bengals are hoping for the return of starting FS George Iloka, perhaps as soon as this week. Iloka suffered a leg injury in practice early in training camp on July 30 and missed all four of the team's preseason games. His status for the Ravens game wasn't known at the time this news release was written, but coaches at the time of the injury seemed to indicated they anticipated his return would be sooner rather than later. Iloka's possible return, plus expanded roles for CBs Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson and Josh Shaw in the absence of CB Adam Jones (suspension) and the likely absence of starting SS Shawn Williams (elbow injury), provide the secondary with a positive outlook, despite the recent injuries.
"I think (our roster) turned out very well," Lewis said. "We addressed things in the offseason that we felt were important heading into 2017. The guys we have called upon have gone out on the field and performed well, and that's the most important part of it. I feel very good with where we are."
The series: For the second consecutive year, the Bengals and Ravens series is tied to start the season. It stands at 21-21.
Going into last season, Cincinnati had won five straight vs. Baltimore to tie the series at 20 wins each. The Ravens won the first 2016 meeting, 19-14 in Game 11, while the Bengals won the second meeting, 27-10 in the season finale. Cincinnati has not led in the series since after the first of two meetings in 1998 when they were up 3-2.
It hasn't been an easy series for the visiting team. The Ravens lead 14-7 in Baltimore, and the Bengals lead 14-7 in Cincinnati. The Bengals, winners of five straight at home against the Ravens, look to continue that trend on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
In the past seven seasons since 2010, 11 of the last 14 meetings have been one-score decisions, by eight or fewer points.
Team bests from the series:
Bengals — MOST POINTS: 42, in a 42-29 win in 2005 at Paul Brown Stadium. LARGEST VICTORY MARGIN: 17, in a 34-17 win at Paul Brown Stadium in the 2013 regular-season finale. FEWEST POINTS ALLOWED: 7 (three times), most recently in a 17-7 win in 2009 at Paul Brown Stadium.
Ravens — MOST POINTS: 44, in a 44-13 win at M&T Bank Stadium in 2012. LARGEST VICTORY MARGIN: 37, in a 37-0 win at Baltimore in 2000. FEWEST POINTS ALLOWED: 0 (three times), most recently in a 16-0 win at Baltimore in 2001.
Starting off on the right feet: This week's game matches two of only three quarterbacks in the NFL's Super Bowl era to lead their teams to postseason in each of their first five campaigns.
Joe Flacco did it with Baltimore from 2008-12, and Andy Dalton did it with the Bengals from '11-15. Seattle QB Russell Wilson now also has done it, from '12-16.
Flacco's streak was snapped when the Ravens missed the playoffs in 2013. He led Baltimore back to the postseason in 2014 but missed the playoffs again in both '15 and '16. Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs from 2011-15, but the Bengals missed in '16. Wilson's streak still is active.
Individually vs. Ravens: Bengals QB Andy Dalton has 11 career games against Baltimore, with a 6-5 record. Dalton is 233-for-402 passing (58.0 percent) for 2918 yards (265.3 yards per game), with 12 TDs and 13 INTs (77.1 rating).
Statistically, Dalton's best game against the Ravens was in the team's 2015 comeback win at Baltimore when he passed for a career-high 383 yards and a 122.3 rating.
Other current Bengals' offensive performances while playing for Cincinnati against Baltimore include (ordered by total games played):
● HB Cedric Peerman (Reserve/Injured): 14 games; 15 rushes for 51 yards (3.4); One reception for 11 yards.
● WR A.J. Green: Eight games; 41 receptions (5.1 per game) for 726 yards (90.8 per game and 17.7 per catch), with six TDs. Green has been a key player against the Ravens in recent games in which he has played. At Baltimore in 2015, Green had 227 receiving yards — his career-high and second-most in the NFL for the season — on 10 receptions, with two TDs. His 80-yard TD brought the Bengals back from a 17-14 deficit in the fourth quarter, and he later had a seven-yard score that erased a 21-17 Baltimore lead, giving Cincinnati its 28-24 final margin. In the 2014 season opener at Baltimore, Green's 77-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter lifted the Bengals from a 16-15 deficit to a 23-16 win. Green had TD receptions for 50-plus yards in four straight games vs. Baltimore before being limited to four-for-34 (with a TD) in the 2015 season finale. He did not play against the Ravens in 2016 — he was inactive for the first contest in Game 11 due to a hamstring injury, and he was placed on the Reserve/Injured list for that injury prior to the second meeting in the season finale.
● HB Giovani Bernard: Six games; 76 rushes for 258 yards (3.4), with one TD; 25 receptions for 198 yards (7.9) with one TD.
● TE Tyler Eifert: Five games; 15 receptions for 211 yards (14.1), with two TDs. Eifert has a receiving TD in each of his last two games played against the Ravens.
● H-back Ryan Hewitt: Five games; Two receptions for 10 yards (5.0).
● HB Jeremy Hill: Five games; 54 rushes for 182 yards (3.4), with one TD; 12 catches for 108 yards (9.0).
● WR Tyler Boyd: Two games; seven receptions for 101 yards (14.4), with one rush for 15 yards.
● WR Cody Core: Two games; Four receptions for 82 yards (20.5).
● WR Alex Erickson: Two games; One reception for seven yards.
● WR Brandon LaFell: Two games; 10 receptions for 105 yards (10.5).
● TE C.J. Uzomah: Two games, three catches for 13 yards (4.3) and one TD
● QB AJ McCarron: One game; 17-for-27 passing (63.0 percent) for 160 yards, with two TDs and no INTs (103.9 rating). McCarron led the Bengals to a win in the 2015 game at Cincinnati, subbing for the injured Dalton.
Bengals records vs. Ravens: In the first Bengals-Ravens game, Nov. 3, 1996 at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, head coach Bruce Coslet's Bengals overcame what still stands today as the largest deficit (18 points) to win a road game in franchise history. Coach Ted Marchibroda's Ravens led 21-3 at halftime, but Cincinnati rallied for a 24-21 win on a 39-yard Doug Pelfrey field goal at the final gun.
The Bengals' second-biggest comeback in a road win also was at Baltimore. On Dec. 5, 2004 at M&T Bank Stadium, Cincinnati rallied from a 20-3 deficit to win 27-26. Also:
● Shayne Graham kicked a Bengals-record seven field goals — for all of Cincinnati's scoring — in a 21-7 win at Baltimore in 2007. Graham did not have a missed attempt. The NFL record for field goals in a game is eight, set by Rob Bironas of Tennessee in 2007, and Graham is one of six players sharing second place with seven.
● In the 2014 season opener at Baltimore, Bengals K Mike Nugent tied the NFL record for field goals in a half (five). His five in the first half gave the Bengals a 15-0 lead toward an eventual 23-16 win.
● WR A.J. Green's 227 receiving yards at Baltimore in 2015 stands as second most in a game in team history, behind only Chad Johnson's 260 vs. San Diego in 2006.
● In 2008 against the Ravens in Cincinnati, P Kyle Larson punted 11 times, which is tied with three other instances for most in a game in team history. Larson's 480 yards punting that day also stand as the third-most for a single game in Bengals history.
● The Bengals record for kickoff return yardage in a game (228 yards) was set at Baltimore by Brandon Bennett in 2002. Bennett had a 94-yarder for a TD.
● The Bengals were flagged for a club-record 134 penalty yards (on nine penalties) in their 2013 overtime loss at Baltimore.
Ravens records vs. Bengals: The Ravens also have a few records among opponents of the Bengals:
● The most rushing yards ever recorded in a game by a Bengals opponent was 227 by Ravens RB Priest Holmes in 1998 in Cincinnati.
● The most passing attempts in a single game by a Bengals opponent was 63 by Ravens QB Elvis Grbac in 2001 in Cincinnati. That is followed closely by a 62-attempt performance by current Ravens QB Joe Flacco, who in 2014 at Baltimore tied for second most ever against the Bengals.
● The longest punt return ever recorded against the Bengals was a 95-yard return for a TD by Ravens return specialist Lamont Brightful in 2002 at Baltimore.
● The longest interception return by a Bengals opponent was Ravens S Chad Williams' 98-yarder in 2002 at Baltimore.
Bengals career records watch: Here is a look at potential upcoming movement in the Bengals' career records book (regular-season).
● QB Andy Dalton has 22,214 career passing yards, 480 shy of QB Carson Palmer for third place all-time. QB Ken Anderson (32,838) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● Dalton also has 21 career 300-yard passing games, two shy of the Bengals' all-time leader, QB Boomer Esiason (23).
● Dalton also has 1920 career completions, 95 shy of Esiason (2015) for third place all-time. Anderson (2654) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● Dalton also has 3060 career passing attempts, 157 shy of Palmer (3217) for third place all-time. Anderson (4475) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● Dalton also has 142 career TD passes, 12 shy of Palmer (154) for third place all-time. Anderson (197) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● WR A.J. Green has 49 career TDs, four shy of WR Isaac Curtis (53) for fifth place all-time. FB Pete Johnson (70) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● Green also has 49 career receiving TDs, four shy of WR Isaac Curtis (53) for third place all-time. WR Chad Johnson (66) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● Green also has 481 career receptions, 26 shy of WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (507) for third place all-time. Johnson (751) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● Green has 28 career 100-yard receiving games, three shy of the Bengals' all-time leader, WR Chad Johnson (31).
● HB Jeremy Hill has 29 career rushing TDs, eight shy of HB James Brooks and FB Larry Kinnebrew (37 each) for fourth place all-time. Bengals FB Pete Johnson (64) is the all-time leader.
● P Kevin Huber has 27,398 career punting yards, 1909 shy of P Pat McInally (29,307) for second place all-time. P Lee Johnson (32,196) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● CB Adam Jones has 984 career punt return yards, 217 shy of CB Lemar Parrish (1201) for third place all-time. WR Brandon Tate (1411) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● Jones also has one career punt return for a TD. One more would tie him for second-most all-time with WR Peter Warrick, WR Craig Yeast and CB Mitchell Price (each with two). Parrish (four) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
● DE Carlos Dunlap has 57 career sacks, two shy of DE Ross Browner (59) for third place all-time. DE Eddie Edwards (83.5) is the Bengals all-time leader.
● DT Geno Atkins has 52 career sacks, five shy of DE Carlos Dunlap (57) for fourth place all-time and seven shy of Browner (59) for third place. Edwards (83.5) is the Bengals' all-time leader.
Bengals-Ravens connections: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was Ravens defensive coordinator from 1996-2001 and earned a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 World Champions ... Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is from Perrysburg, Ohio, played DB at Miami (Ohio) and coached at Morehead State (1988) and the University of Cincinnati ('89-96) ... Ravens DE Chris Wormley is from Toledo, Ohio (Whitmer High School) ... Bengals HB Cedric Peerman (Reserve/Injured) entered the NFL in 2009 as a sixth-round draft choice of the Ravens, but was waived in final preseason cuts ... Ravens ILB Bam Bradley is from Trotwood, Ohio (Trotwood-Madison High School) ... Ravens WR Chris Moore played at the University of Cincinnati ... Ravens OLB Za'Darius Smith and WR Chris Matthews both played at the University of Kentucky ... Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons entered NFL coaching with the Ravens in 1998 ... Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees is from Dunkirk, Ohio, attended Bowling Green State University and coached in college at the University of Findlay (1979-82), Miami (Ohio) University ('83-86) and the University of Toledo ('90-93) ... Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney was on the Ravens staff from 1996-98 ... Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle was defensive coordinator at the University of Maryland from 1994-96 ... Ravens special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg coached at the University of Cincinnati from 1992-95 ... Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton was assistant S/C coach for the Ravens from 1999-2001 ... Bengals assistant strength and conditioning coach Jeff Friday was on the Ravens staff from 1999-2007 ... Ravens assistant special teams coach Chris Hewitt played at the University of Cincinnati from 1993-96 ... Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther coached at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) from 1994-95 ... Ravens inside linebackers coach Don Martindale is from Dayton, Ohio, played at Defiance College from 1981-84, and coached at Defiance ('86-87), University of Cincinnati ('96-98) and Western Kentucky University (2001-03) ... Ravens offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach Craig Ver Steeg coached at the University of Cincinnati from 1990-93.