Sunday's game in Foxboro, Mass., should be sponsored by the Elias Sports Bureau when the Bengals and Patriots put four of the NFL's most prolific receivers ever on the field.
New England's Randy Moss (149) and Cincinnati's Terrell Owens (147) come into the game fourth and fifth, respectively, on the all-time touchdowns list. Owens needs 49 yards in the 1 p.m. game at Gillette Stadium (Cincinnati's Channel 12) to become the third player in NFL history with 15,000 yards while Moss needs 535 this season to join the club.
And then there is Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, the only man to ever lead the NFC or AFC in receiving yards four straight seasons, needing just 48 yards Sunday to become the 33rd NFL receiver with 10,000 yards. The Pats' Wes Welker provides the comeback story in his first game back since tearing his ACL as he tries to join Marvin Harrison as the only man to have more than 100 catches and 1,000 yards in four straight seasons. Only Harrison, Welker, Jerry Rice, Herman Moore and Brandon Marshall have done it in three.
But it is also a comeback game for Bengals cornerback Adam Jones, making his first regular-season appearance since off-field problems knocked him out of the league late in the 2008 season. Jones is the third corner, so when the Pats go into their signature spread Leon Hall most likely moves inside on Welker in the slot and Jones or Johnathan Joseph could be matched on Moss on the outside.
Asked if he's seen a better pair of wide receivers than Moss and Welker - except maybe for The Ocho and Owens - Jones smiled.
"Oh, I was about to say, 'Our pair is way better than their pair,' " he joked. "I don't know where the hell you've been but I like those two (Chad and T.O.) more than them two (Moss and Welker)."
Seriously, he added, "Those two, with the tight ends, are great receivers. That is a great group but if we go out and do what we're supposed to do I think we'll be all right."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has noticed things have changed in the secondary since the Bengals and Patriots last met. In the 34-13 win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in 2007, Brady found Moss for two touchdowns. One was a seven-yarder in which the 6-4 Moss out jumped the 5-11 Joseph and the other was a 14-yarder running past the rookie Hall. Since then, Joseph and Hall have emerged as the NFL's leading corner tandem and Jones gives the Bengals three first-round corners on passing downs.
"I think they're three of the best we'll face all year and I don't know if any teams have three as good as they do," Brady said in a Wednesday conference call with Cincinnati media. "I remember playing them when they were relatively young, when Leon was early in his career and Johnathan Joseph was a rookie.
"But they've obviously matured a lot and are playing a high level. And then you add Adam Jones in there -- I've played against him before, too -- and he's one of the more dynamic players in the league."
By all accounts, Jones has had a fine preseason and he certainly jumps into the fire with three future Hall of Famers staring at him in his first real game in nearly two years. The big guy is, of course, Brady.
"He knows when to check and how to check. That's the main thing. He's going to put the ball on the right spot if the guy is covered or not covered," Jones said. "That can give us the opportunity to get our hands on the ball a little bit more…
"There won't be (any) surprises. We know what they're going to do and they know what we're going to do. We're coming. It's going to be a physical game on every end. As long as they have their chinstraps buckled we're going to be up there buckled. We're going to play physical no matter what the outcome of the game is; we're going to be physical."
This is not the same Joseph that was part of the assault that allowed Moss to catch nine balls for 102 yards in '07. Joseph was in his second season and coming off a broken foot. But he knows the deal. He's seen the tape from the preseason and Moss' 65-yard touchdown catch off a bomb. And the '09 tape, when he had an NFL-best 13 touchdowns on 15.2 yards per catch.
Last year, the Bengals allowed just 18 touchdown passes all year, and only nine of them were caught by wide receivers. And only one receiver, San Diego's Vincent Jackson, caught two in one game.
Brady's right. They've come a long way.
"He was productive on the same level last year. The long deep ball. He was productive in the preseason," Joseph said of Moss. "Deep balls. Taking shots. Double moves."
Carson Palmer called the late Chris Henry "Randy Moss, Jr.," but in actuality the Pats use Moss in more ways than the Bengals did Henry. Joseph can see the similarities, such as when Moss is stride-for-stride or has a step on a defender on a deep ball; he's throwing his arm up and calling for it. But, like Owens, Moss is also effective on underneath routes and quick-hitters.
"If it's in a different situation (not a deep ball), he can make a spectacular catch; he has outstanding hands," Joseph said. "You have to play every play. He'll make some plays on you. You have to make sure he doesn't make more plays than you."
Owens is probably a good comparison to Moss. At 36, he's three years older and while he's an inch shorter at 6-3, Owens has got 15 more pounds on Moss at 225. But Jones can see the differences, too.
"Oh yeah, there's a lot of difference. I won't say everything but it is a lot of difference with the routes," Jones said. "There's a lot of stuff you can pick up on film, but that's for all of you to find out."
But he admits the daily practices have been good preparation.
"It's always going to help going up against a guy like T.O. and Chad every day," he said. "I'm thinking about how I'm going to get that kind of work every day in practice."
Hall is the guy that's going to end up on the slippery Welker inside much of the time and his solid tackling skills are going to be tested against Welker's yards-after-catch. Joseph said it will be a cat-and-mouse game with Moss.
"You have to give him a lot of different looks; you can't show them the same thing every time," Joseph said. "You have to mix it up a lot of different ways. Off. Press. Walking up into your press. Showing press. Walking back out. Doing different things."
Joseph looks at you like you're nuts when asked what Moss' best route is.
"Trick question?" he asked. "Streak. Straight takeoff. Nine route. Anything deep ball. Just getting him on top of the coverage generally."
In New England, Welker is the tug-the-heart strings comeback kid. But there is no better story in the NFL than Jones coming down off the "Wanted" poster and being back on the depth chart as a key player on defense and special teams.
"This is going to be fun," Jones said. "Me not being out there for more than a year for a regular-season game, I'm just going to let the game come to me and play my technique and play physical. We'll see if those guys want to play physical for 60 minutes because we're going to be physical.
"I'm not really out there trying to prove anything to anybody. I've got more to prove to myself as far as that goes. A lot of guys have (written) me off a number of times. You'd probably think I've never been in an NFL locker room from where I came from. I'm not trying to prove anything. I just have to prove to my teammates that I'm here and I'm going to be one of the guys that packs the parachute. I'm going to play within the scheme and I'm going to play fast. I just want my teammates to be counting on me and know that I'm not going to let them down."
Brady, who came back last year to throw 28 touchdown passes after missing virtually all of '08 with a torn ACL, knows all about comebacks. He also knows the Bengals secondary has made a big comeback since 2007.
"They can all cover man-to-man, and if they do intercept the ball, they can all return it, so we've really got to be really careful where we're throwing the ball," Brady said of the Bengals corners. "If I'm aiming in a certain place, it has to be a place where only our receiver can catch it."
On a day of historic pitch and catch, the Bengals hope to turn the old adage of "Good pitching stops good hitting" upside down.