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Quick Hits: NFL Rewards Bengals For Top-Tier Popularity; No 'Pitch,' Count As Burrow Continues To Spin It; Eyes 500th Game

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) speaks with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) following an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) speaks with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) following an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

The NFL is counting on the Joe Burrow Bengals as they bid for their fourth straight winning season and third AFC North title in four years during eight national television windows this season.

"Not only are we counting on them, but that's what the fans have come to expect. That's what the fans are asking for," says Mike North, the NFL's vice president of broadcast planning.

"Every time a fan interacts with the National Football League, they're telling us what they care about. Whether watching television, listening to a podcast, buying a hat or jersey, putting a player on their fantasy team, following someone on Instagram, and the Bengals are getting to be one of those top-tier teams our fans care about week in and week out."

Two of those teams the Bengals are closing the gap on in that department, the two-time Super Bowl champion Chiefs and the perennially popular Cowboys, are foes in two of those matchups. They're in Kansas City for a 4:25 p.m. Sept. 15 Sunday game and in Dallas for a Dec. 9 Monday Nighter.

That matches up Burrow with two of his fellow franchise quarterbacks on contending teams, the kind of game the NFL can't resist. North says it's time to elevate those late Sunday afternoons into a prime-time mindset.

"The truth is those 4:25 Sunday games are the most watched window the NFL has," North says. "Monday night can be somewhere between 16-18 million, but go to a Sunday afternoon and get a close game down to the wire with two big brands and two star quarterbacks, you can get 28-30 million people watching. Hard not to look at that as a pretty good estimate of what we think of them."

The Bengals get three of those 4:25s. Along with the Chiefs, they host the Eagles in one Oct. 27 and then do it again a month later in Los Angeles against the Chargers.

But Burrow and fellow 2020 draft quarterback Justin Herbert aren't the only draws in that Chargers game. The NFL took notes of backup Jake Browning's 4-3 stint in the wake of Burrow's season-ending wrist injury.

"They went all the way to week 17 in contention. That's a testament to some of those teams you see us kind counting on. Cleveland had four different quarterbacks and went to the playoffs," North says. "If you're that good you can play that well with your second, third and fourth quarterbacks, you obviously have a good team, although the fans are hoping for the return of the healthy quarterbacks."

Two of their five prime-time games are at Paycor Stadium, including a Thursday night Dec. 19 game against Cleveland that figures to go a long way in deciding the AFC North race. With the second straight season of a Thursday night game in Baltimore (Nov. 7), North reminds the faithful the league likes the Welcome-to-the-Jungle vibe.

"That's probably one we'll keep an eye on moving forward," North says. "We probably shouldn't play Bengals-Ravens in Baltimore on a short week year after year after year. But like I say, every one of these AFC North games matter. You end up hosting Cleveland instead. I imagine at some point Baltimore will come your way at night."

NO COUNT BY PITCH: New Bengals offensive coordinator Dan “Pitch,” Pitcher doesn't have Burrow on a "Pitch," count during the voluntarys. But the nod to his rehab is built into the practices.

"We designed the whole thing to stay within the constraints of where the medical people think he should be and where he wants to be right now," Pitcher says. "Nobody is sitting there with a special pitch counter. But we've been smart how we put it together."

They must be doing something right because Pitcher says Burrow is throwing on time for training camp: "Really happy. He's got all his range and power."

PHASE THREE: Here's how Pitcher explains the difference between phase two, which ends Thursday, and phase three, which starts Tuesday.

"The only (difference) really is you can line up across from a defender," Pitcher says. "We'll have full speed passing drills (seven-on-seven) and 11-on-11 walkthroughs."

There'll be no one-on-ones. The league is adamant about legislating against any physical contact in the spring, so Pitcher says the Bengals are trying their best to avoid putting them in such a situation.

He knows what people are thinking when they hear "walkthroughs." But it couldn't be more opposite from the truth, Pitcher says.

"That's where you get the scheme and the adjustments and the communication. It all happens in a walkthrough. It's critical to our success," Pitcher says.

"It's important from a mental standpoint. No more imaginary people or reading routes off imaginary safeties. There are actual humans out there. Not full speed, but you still have to make decisions in real time. If the quarterback changes it at the line, how quickly they see it and adjust. That's the part we haven't done."

They're in phase three for three weeks until the June 11-13 mandatory minicamp.

SKED BYTES: The Bengals are 3-0 in Ring of Honor games with wins over the Jaguars, Dolphins, and Rams. The Sept 23 Monday night (8:15-ABC) game against the Commanders has been announced as the Ring game.

Burrow, unbeaten in Prime Time Paycor, has a 96.4 passer rating in Ring games with four touchdowns and a pick. Two of the wins (Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence and the Rams' Matthew Stafford) have come against fellow overall No. 1 picks. Burrow may very well get this year's No. 2 pick in Washington's Jayden Daniels …

The Oct. 20 game at 1 p.m. in Cleveland marks the 500th game covered by since its April 15, 2000 debut. By then the count would be 92 preseason games and 394 regular season games to go with 14 postseason games. The 400th regular-season game is set for the Monday Nighter in Dallas …


Ring of Honor

The official source of Bengals Ring of Honor nominees, inductees, and more.

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