A thumbnail look at the Bengals' 2022 games. The schedule figures to be announced in early May.
AT PAUL BROWN STADIUM
BILLS: For about a minute, give or take 13 seconds, this is the AFC title game we thought we were getting last month. Don't let those 13 seconds in the Bills' playoff loss to the Chiefs fool you. For 17 games the Bills' top-ranked defense dominated the passing game by allowing a league-low 12 touchdown passes and 65.3 passer rating. In winning the AFC passing title with a 108.3 passer rating, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow threw 12 touchdown passes in his last four PBS games, including playoffs.
It's also the first game between two Generation Next flame throwers in Burrow and Josh Allen, heading into his fifth season with a .639 winning percentage (.600 on the road) and a 95.6 road passer rating that is nearly 10 points better than what he does in Buffalo.
BROWNS: The Bengals would love to reverse this trend. Burrow has yet to beat the Browns in three starts with a passer rating nearly ten points below his career mark of 100. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is 6-1 against the Bengals with a 113.8 passer rating. He's 23-29 against everyone else with a career rating of 87.8.
CHIEFS: This would be a great Opening Day, although the Bengals are coming off back-to-back home openers for the first time since they started the season with home games in the first four years of PBS from 2000-3. It pits two teams that have won the AFC title the last three seasons and the Bengals against a team they staged two classic comebacks in a span of 28 days to win the AFC North and the AFC championship.
Those two games are the 2021 defense's legacy. In the first game, the Bengals erased three 14-point deficits. In the second game they came back from 18 down. They did it by holding Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a combined 35 passer rating in the second halves.
DOLPHINS: Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is 0-2 against one of his old teams, but this is his first shot against Miami at PBS and with Burrow. Barring the ouster of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, this is the first matchup between the two whose fates were decided on Dec. 22, 2019 in Miami when the Dolphins' Ryan Fitzpatrick outpitched the Bengals' Andy Dalton in the overtime loss that allowed the Bengals to draft Burrow No. 1.
FALCONS: How long is eight years in the NFL? The last time the Falcons played here, the Bengals won getting a touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Mohamed Sanu and Atlanta's only touchdown came on a pass from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones in Joe Burrow's senior season at Athens High School. The only guy in the same place is Ryan as he embarks on his 15th season with the Falcons. Better here than there. Ryan is a game under .500 on the road. The Falcons defense comes off a season right in the Bengals' wheelhouse. They had 18 sacks in a season no other team had fewer than 29 while giving up the third most touchdown passes with 31.
PANTHERS: There's a good chance the Bengals could be facing a rookie quarterback after Carolina finished 30th in offense and 29th in scoring with Cam Newton and Sam Darnold. When Darnold started here for the Jets in 2019, the Bengals kept him out of the end zone in a 22-6 victory that was Zac Taylor's first as Bengals head coach. The last time Newton was here in 2014, he had one of his all-time games with a combined 391 yards, 107 on the ground on 17 carries in a dizzying 37-37 final.
RAVENS: In any era, whether it is the Marvin Lewis Bengals vs. the Ray Lewis Ravens or the Joe Burrow Bengals vs. the Lamar Jackson Ravens, it's always a marquee game on the schedule. The Bengals had never beaten Jackson until they swept them last year with Burrow beating famed defensive coordinator Wink Martindale's blitz for a combined 21 of 28 for 386 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. That 75 percent passing may have made it 100 percent probable that Martindale would get fired after a highly-regarded stint in Baltimore.
STEELERS: Let's see, the last time the Bengals faced the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger not installed as Pittsburgh's starting quarterback, the Bengals' Jon Kita threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Schobel with 13 seconds left to beat Tommy Maddox, 24-20, in 2003. And the last time the Bengals beat the Steelers three times at home, home was Riverfront Stadium from 1988-90.
ON THE ROAD
BUCCANEERS: Robbed of a Burrow-Tom Brady extravaganza, the Bengals get tested by a relentless defense that is the only one in the league that blitzed 40 percent of the time last season and supplied the second most pressure. So instead of Burrow vs. Brady, it's Burrow vs. The Blitz and, by all metrics, it's lethal to blitz Burrow (see Martindale, Wink). The big matchup here is not unlike what the Bengals faced in the Super Bowl from the Rams' explosive defensive front with the Bucs generating 47 sacks for sixth most in the league.
BROWNS: The last time they were in Cleveland was back in last year's finale last month, which seems like the last decade, right? The Bengals subs gave the Browns starters – sans Mayfield – an intriguing run. The Brandon Allen-led Bengals lost, 21-16, but not before the Browns had to recover an onside kick on the last play before the two-minute warning. But they have yet to beat Mayfield in Cleveland. The last time they won on The Lake, Andy Dalton beat DeShone Kizer in the first career 100-yard game for Bengals rookie running back Joe Mixon.
COWBOYS: A marquee matchup worthy of "Jerry World," between Burrow, the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, the guy who could have been Comeback Player of the Year. Their stats for '21 are like almost like looking in a mirror. They both had 16 starts and finished 2-3 in passer rating (Burrow 108.3, Prescott 104.2), 6-7 in yards (Burrow 4,611, Prescott (4,449), and 4-6 in touchdown passes (Prescott 37, Burrow 34).
The game also pits two of the NFL's best backs over the last five years. In that stretch the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott has 5,755 yards, second only to Derrick Henry. Mixon is fifth with 4,564. While the Bengals are busy knocking off firsts since 1988, they can try to add this one to the list. They haven't won in Dallas since Nov. 20, 1988, when James Brooks outrushed Herschel Walker, 148-131, in a 38-24 win on the way to the AFC title.
JETS: It won't take much for the Bengals to get riled up for this one. They went to Met Life Stadium last year and fittingly on Halloween they played their worst game of the year, blowing an 11-point lead midway through the fourth quarter in a 34-31 loss where a Jets emergency quarterback, someone named Mike White, threw for 405 yards. This is the same defense that would later give Patrick Mahomes just 105 in the last four quarters of two games.
The Jets ended up winning four games, scoring 30 points just one more time, White ended up throwing 31 more passes the rest of the season and the Bengals ended up going to the Super Bowl. Burrow's tipped pick on a screen, with 4:36 left and a five-point lead, was his ninth interception of the season in his eighth game. He would throw just five the rest of the way.
PATRIOTS: It's the first time in 22 years the Bengals head to Foxboro to play a Patriots team not quarterbacked by Tom Brady. In head coach Bill Belichick's first season in New England, Drew Bledsoe beat the Bengals' Scott Mitchell, 16-13, on the way to Belichick compiling an 8-2 record against the Bengals. The Bengals can break another road drought here. Their last win in Foxboro came in 1986 when they rushed for 300 yards in a 31-7 win over the defending AFC champs.
Now the Bengals return as defending AFC champs in a game featuring two of this past season's top rookies in Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. Chase was everyone's rookie of the year while Jones channeled Andy Dalton. Ten years after the Bengals' Dalton became the first rookie quarterback to throw at least 20 touchdown passes and make the playoffs, Jones did it throwing 22 touchdowns to lead the Pats to a Wild Card berth. Belichick's staff is in the throes of transition with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels becoming the head coach of the Raiders. But his defense, which finished the season second in scoring, third in turnovers and fourth in yards, is very much still there.
SAINTS: New Orleans is going to be going nuts with the return of Burreaux and Chase to the building where they won it all for LSU. But the only way the Bengals light up with a win is they have to solve Saints head coach Dennis Allen's top ten defense.
Allen is the only first-year head coach they face on the road, but he's not really since he was Sean Payton's defensive coordinator the seven previous seasons. Both Burrow and the Bengals know how to win in New Orleans. They've only lost there twice and one of them was 40 years ago when Archie Manning threw for 190 yards in one of the last losses Ken Anderson's AFC champions would suffer in 1981.
RAVENS: As much as Burrow and Jackson mean to their teams, this rivalry is defined by defense. By mush-rushing Jackson, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo seemed to find the key to stop him. In the one game Jackson played against them this season, he did rush for 88 yards on 12 carries, but he only competed 15 of 31 passes. And how do the Bengals keep it going? After not scoring a touchdown against Baltimore in eight quarters in 2020, they scored ten last season.
STEELERS: The last time the Bengals put 66 points on the Steelers like they did last season, they put up 67 in 1989, when Bubby Brister was the Pittsburgh quarterback. Who knows who is going to be their guy this year with Big Ben retired? The Bengals have to believe they'll have better luck against Mr. X after going 10-26 against Ben in 18 seasons, as well as in two Wild Cards. Carson Palmer was 4-11, Andy Dalton 3-13, Joe Burrow 2-1, Brandon Allen 1-0 and AJ McCarron 0-1. A win at Heinz would mark their first back-to-back wins in Pittsburgh since 2005-6.
TITANS: A rematch of last month's AFC Divisional game in Nissan Stadium the Bengals won at the gun on rookie kicker Evan McPherson's 52-yard field goal. Another centerpiece for a defense that stopped a two-point conversion, repelled the stone-cold reliable Derrick Henry on fourth-and-one and set up McPherson's winner when cornerback Eli Apple tipped Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill's pass to middle linebacker Logan Wilson with 20 seconds left. The Bengals overcame a playoff-record nine sacks of Burrow with three interceptions of Tannehill and Henry clearly wasn't himself playing his first game since Halloween and managing just 62 yards on 20 carries.
It figures to be a much different game this trip with the Bengals looking to upgrade their offensive line, a healthy Henry and maybe a new quarterback for the Titans.