An Elvis and Beatles-like reception awaits the Bengals iconic Big Easy duo of Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase (pick which is which) in Sunday's star power game at the Caesars Superdome (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in New Orleans against the 2-3 Saints as the 2-3 Bengals hope to leave the building with a boost to the playoffs.
The Bengals.com Media Roundtable comes off the red carpet to side with the Bengals. The swing vote comes from the man who led the Bengals to a win in their last Superdome appearance eight years ago when running back Jeremy Hill's 152 yards gave them a 27-10 win that vaulted them into the thick of the November playoff chase. Now a sports personality for Baton Rouge radio station ESPN 104.5 and a voice on the LSU postgame show, Hill can't pick against his LSU brother Burrow.
Another LSU alum with Bengals ties, ESPN.com's Saints reporter Katherine Terrell, looks at the New Orleans pass rush as a deciding factor in picking against the Cincinnati team she once covered for ESPN.com.
Bengals.com team reporter Marisa Contipelli, an Ohio State grad, sees fellow Buckeyes Vonn Bell, Eli Apple and Sam Hubbard leading a decisive role for the Bengals defense. Mike Niziolek, who is one of three reporters covering the Bengals for Cleveland.com (if you ever wonder how popular the Bengals and football are, repeat that clause), believes the Cincinnati offense settles in to unleash its most points of the season.
Let's go around The Table. As always, ladies, former Bengals and visitors first.
The Saints have been pretty much cleaned out of their wide receivers with Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry not playing and rookie Chris Olave just coming out of concussion protocol and questionable. (Terrell later reported Olave is out.) It really looks like a low-scoring game to me. Now that I say that, watch them pull something out of the hat.
But I think this game comes down to the defenses and a big part of that is how the Saints pass rush can affect Joe Burrow. I the Saints defensive ends had trouble generating pressure earlier in the season, but they've kind of put it together the last couple of weeks and I think that could make a big difference.
On the other side, sticking with the injuries, Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore is out, so who matches up against Ja'Marr Chase? Last week the Saints won, 39-32, but they gave up a lot of points and part of that was the secondary giving up big plays. Paulson Adebo is going to have to have a pretty big game.
And then, of course, you've got all these local storylines. I don't know if it will make a big difference in the game, but it sure will be interesting to see what kind of reception all the former LSU players get and obviously the former Saints playing for the Bengals.
THE EDGE: Interesting storylines, but the Saints certainly have a compromised team right now. I could really see this game going either way. I don't know what to make of these two teams right now, especially with the injuries. Go with the pass rush and the home team. SAINTS, 20-16
The Bengals start to get back on track offensively this week and build off what we saw against Baltimore. Running the ball effectively. Joe Mixon is fourth in the NFL in carries and I think we see that trend against a Saints team that is 24th against the run and allowing 4.5 yards per rushing attempt. If they can get the run game going and add a few explosive downfield plays, the offense should be just fine.
But what will separate the Bengals again this week will be the defense. You can't ignore how well Lou Anarumo has his unit playing, especially in the second half. New Orleans has an NFL high 13 giveaways on the season, and Cincinnati has had a knack for getting the ball out, forcing at least one turnover in the last four games.
THE EDGE: Can Vonn Bell come away with a pick three games in a row? BENGALS, 24-17
They're evenly matched. Both teams have lost games they could have easily won. I think a loss for either team is going to make it very difficult to get to the playoffs. It's going to be tight. Both teams are going to be desperate to get their run games going, especially looking at the pass rushers both defenses have getting after the quarterback. I picked the Bengals to rep the AFC and they've had opportunities to win each game they lost.
Look at the first game of the year. They did everything special teams related to lose that game when they easily could have won it. Look at the Cowboys game. They were one stop away from winning that one. And last week was a tough one when you can't score in the red zone and don't make it on fourth down. They could be sitting at 5-0.
THE EDGE: It will be super, super tight. I would love to see (Joe) Mixon get the run game going a little bit. They haven't been able to do that this season and for that reason I think that's why it will be super close. Look, it's going to be hard pressed for me to pick against Joey B in any game. BENGALS, 24-21
The Bengals offense gets on track a little bit. It's just too talented to sort of stay down. I know they have had trouble with the cover two type looks. I think Joe Burrow gets it figured out with the receivers. The biggest concern is left tackle Jonah Williams' status going into the game. If they have to go to a backup left tackle, that could hurt a little bit. Wide receiver Tee Higgins is injured as well, but left tackle would be my main concern offensively. They have to have that full line going.
Defensively, that group is playing as well as anybody right now. Saints tight end Taysom Hill presented some problems for the Seahawks last week, but they kind of presented a blueprint of what not to do. The Saints run those confusing jumbo sets of three and four tight ends. The Bengals haven't had a lot of busts this year. I think in Baltimore last week was the first time they had a missed coverage on that Mark Andrews touchdown. But other than that, they have been pretty solid in the secondary trusting each other and I don't think they let that happen.
THE EDGE: About 17 points is where the defense is and I see the offense getting some of its rhythm back against a Saints defense without Lattimore. BENGALS, 31-17.
THE BOTTOM LINE
One of the more intriguing games the Bengals have played in a bit. Burrow and Chase are Louisiana legends who won a national title the last time they played in the building. Three former Saints start for a Bengals defense in the top ten of many categories. And Andy Dalton, the winningest quarterback in Bengals history, plays his predecessor and the man who broke all his single-season records last year in Burrow.
Burrow is pitted against his fifth backup quarterback in the sixth game of the season. There's that, but, also, what are the odds that Dalton goes 3-0 against his old team? It hasn't happened all that often. If Dalton wins, he'll become only the fourth quarterback since the Truman Administration to be 3-0 or better against the team that drafted him. And even now at 2-0, he joins only Warren Moon and Dave Krieg as the only quarterbacks to be undefeated against a team for which they made 100-plus starts.
In those two games, Dalton has a 122 passer rating, but he took only 23 snaps last year when he hurt his knee and had to exit in the first half of the Bears' 20-17 win over the Bengals. That was the Bengals' secondary second game together. Different deal. In the last nine games (the four in the 2021 postseason and the first five of this season) opposing quarterbacks have completed just 59 percent of their passes and have picked off 13 passes while allowing 12 touchdowns. And this year teams have just a 72 passer rating against the Bengals defense.
Plus, Dalton doesn't have two of his best receivers in Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry and dangerous rookie wide receiver Chris Olave is reportedly out, too. All that would indicate New Orleans is going to have Dalton rely on the NFL's 10th-best rushing team. But the Bengals strength is stopping the run, where they're ranked seventh.
And look for the Bengals to turn to the run, too. They got it rolling in the second half last week in Baltimore as running back Joe Mixon finished with 5.6 yards per carry. The Saints are 24th in rushing after they gave up a 69-yarder to Seattle's Kenneth Walker last week and while allowing 7.2 yards per on the ground in a game they won by a touchdown despite allowing 32 points.
Seattle quarterback Geno Smith threw three touchdowns, one of 50 yards and one of 40 yards. Burrow, the guy that leads the NFL in touchdown passes of 30 yards or more the last two seasons, has to be noting that missing the game for the Saints is four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
But there are always those quieter matchups that are just as decisive, so how about Bengals right tackle La'el Collins vs. Saints seven-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Cam Jordan? Jordan has the second most sacks on the active list (110), is coming off a 12.5-sack season and has three this season at age 33. Collins is also an LSU alum from right down the road in Baton Rouge.
Check out, also, Bengals middle linebacker Logan Wilson against the relentless Taysom Hill. What is Hill exactly? They list him at tight end, but last week against Seattle he became the first player since the merger to return a kick, run for two touchdowns and pass for a touchdown. He's a superb runner and ripped the Seahawks on 12.4 yards per carry on the way to 112 yards while returning three kicks for career-high 69 yards. The Saints confuse with all sorts of motions and formations, but Wilson is a steadying influence.
After all this, watch the kickers win it because there are two good ones. We're in a dome that could see history with both kickers drilling a 60-yarder in the same game. Never happened. The Saints' Will Lutz nailed a 60-yarder in London two weeks ago (and barely missed a 61-yarder) and the Bengals' Evan McPherson opened the season with a Bengals' record 59-yarder. He's also got a 58 and a 57 this season and Lutz has a 56.
But go back to Burrow and Dalton and who gets the most help from his run game. Dalton has had three games with a 110 passer rating or better in the last five seasons and two came against the Bengals. He went for 122.6 when the Cowboys rushed for 101 yards and 118.2 in a first half the Bears rushed for 4.5 yards per carry. Since 2021, the Bengals are 6-9 when Burrow throws more than 30 passes, which he has in all five games this season, and 6-0 when he throws fewer than 30
Somewhere in there lies the winner of this one.