Carson Palmer and the Bengals will kick off the 2009 season at Paul Brown Stadium against the Broncos. (Getty Images)
Updated: 7:30 p.m.
With two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer healthy again, the Bengals figure to be back in the passing game and the NFL schedule-makers have been kind with the weather and defenses.
But not so kind with prime-time games, of which the Bengals have none for the first time since 2003.
After opening the season at Paul Brown Stadium at 1 p.m. Sept. 13 against Denver's 29th-ranked defense, the Bengals travel to cold-weather cities to play warm-weather games in three of the next four weeks.
|Fri.||Aug. 14||at New Orleans||8 p.m.||Superdome|
|Thu.||Aug. 20||at New England||7:30 p.m.||Gillette Stadium|
|Thu.||Aug. 27||ST. LOUIS||7:30 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Thu.||Sept. 3||INDIANAPOLIS||7:30 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Sept. 13||DENVER||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Sept. 20||at Green Bay||1 p.m.||Lambeau Field|
|Sun.||Sept. 27||PITTSBURGH||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Oct. 4||at Cleveland||1 p.m.||Cleveland Browns Stadium|
|Sun.||Oct. 11||at Baltimore||1 p.m.||M&T Bank Stadium|
|Sun.||Oct. 18||HOUSTON||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Oct. 25||CHICAGO||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Nov. 8||BALTIMORE||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Nov. 15||at Pittsburgh||1 p.m.||Heinz Field|
|Sun.||Nov. 22||at Oakland||4:15 p.m.||Oakland Coliseum|
|Sun.||Nov. 29||CLEVELAND||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Dec. 6||DETROIT||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Dec. 13||at Minnesota||1 p.m.||Metrodome|
|Sun.||Dec. 20||at San Diego||4:05 p.m.||Qualcomm Stadium|
|Sun.||Dec. 27||KANSAS CITY||1 p.m.||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Sun.||Jan. 3||at N.Y. Jets||1 p.m.||The Meadowlands|
|All times listed are Eastern|
A Sept. 20 game in Green Bay against the Packers 20th-ranked defense is followed by a PBS stand against Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh's No. 1 defense on Sept. 27. Then in the first of three back-to-back road games, the Bengals go to Cleveland to play the Browns No. 26 defense before an Oct. 11 game in Baltimore against the No. 2 Ravens.
Then come two straight PBS games against the Texans (ranked 22) and the Bears (21) on Oct. 18 and 25, respectively.
The Bengals offense gets a break with a September game in Green Bay, but not with the karma. It is 17 years to the day that Brett Favre came off the bench to beat them with a touchdown pass in the last 15 seconds to jump-start his Hall of Fame career.
If the Bengals are going to make hay, they have to start early. Only two games before the bye, against old friends Pittsburgh and Baltimore, are against '08 playoff teams and defenses that finished higher than 20th.
After the Nov. 1 bye hits them right about when they need it, following the seventh game, the Bengals finish the season with one West Coast game (Oakland) in November and a West Coast game (San Diego) and an indoor game (Minnesota) in December.
The importance of a good start is huge for the Bengals when it comes to a playoff run. When they won the division in 2005, they started 4-0 and when they had to win just one of their last three to make the playoffs the next year, they started 3-0. In the two years since, they are 1-6 in September. Throw in the fact the final division game is Nov. 29 at home against Cleveland and they know they've to get out quickly.
"We've had different starts. Two good ones, two bad ones, so we know what it means," said left guard Andrew Whitworth. "But we not only have to start fast, we've got to play well in the middle so we can put it together at the end. It's good to start at home and get the division games early because those are the big ones."
The AFC North games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the Dec. 13 game in Minnesota, and the Jan. 3 finale in The Meadowlands against the Jets are the only games the Bengals play against defenses that finished better than 20th last season as Palmer looks to resuscitate a unit that finished last in NFL offense for the first time in the 41 seasons of the franchise.
The Jets should be better than their 16th ranking of a year ago under new coach Rex Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator. He meets his old boss and another former Ravens defensive coordinator, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, in the last regular-season game ever at The Meadowlands. It is the last chance for the Bengals to get a win there after going 0-10 in the building since their first game in East Rutherford, N.J., in 1984, a 43-23 loss to the Jets.
The Bengals also try to get their first win ever in Oakland Nov. 22 after the first of nine tries went wayward in their inaugural season of 1968. Lewis nearly pulled it off in the second game of his career on Sept. 14, 2003, during the Bengals' last Bay visit, a 23-20 loss on Sebastian Janikowski's 39-yard field goal with nine seconds left.
The last seven games, beginning with the Nov. 22 game, subject to possible kickoff time changes under the NFL's flexible scheduling program. Any of the seven games could be switched to night kickoffs on NBC's Sunday Night Football, and five of the seven -- excluding two 4 p.m. Eastern time starts on the west coast -- could be moved from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
In Lewis' seventh year in Cincinnati, there are a lot of similarities to that first season of '03. Like then, the Bengals open the season at home against Denver. This time, though, it is the Denver coach's NFL debut in the Broncos' first game in 15 years without Mike Shanahan running the show.
The Bengals hope they give Josh McDaniels and his unsettled quarterback situation a rougher Opening Day than they gave Ravens rookie head coach John Harbaugh and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco in last year's 17-10 loss in Baltimore.
Also for the first time since that '03 season, the Bengals don't have any prime time games in paying a price for last year's 4-11-1 record. All but the two Sunday 4:15 p.m. West Coast games are set for 1 p.m. Sunday Cincinnati time.
"It's nice to get the Cincinnati Bengals some national attention, but I think the important thing is that we've got a good young team with some great character guys that understand you have to win to get on TV," Whitworth said. "That's OK. What we have to do is take one game at a time. It doesn't matter against who or what time. That is going to be important for a young team."
The Bengals play back-to-back road games three times for the first time since 1998. But in that '03 season they had three straight on the road.
After the Bengals travel to Pittsburgh Nov. 15, their last seven games include two '08 playoff teams. But they are back-to-back testers in Minnesota and in San Diego Dec. 20.