2011 was a difficult year for many Bengals fans who did not have an opportunity to go to any home games, sans Pittsburgh and Baltimore, because of the "blackout rule" in the NFL which states that if a home team does not sell out their stadium, then all areas within a 72 mile radius will be blacked out and unable to see the game. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, this happened in 8 of 10 home games, including preseason, this year. The only way most Bengals fans were able to watch their beloved team was to stream it online or catch the highlights that night.
This season was a bit of an anomaly for Bengals fans because of several reasons. First, many of the issues that fans had with Mike Brown, such as high ticket prices and Brown not coming through on his promise to build a winning team, came to a head before the season even started. Second, the teams All-Pro quarterback, Carson Palmer, demanded a trade and would not come within 500 miles of Cincinnati. Last, the team was supposed to be going through a rebuilding year with a struggling defense combined with young players and aging vets, and an offense led by a rookie quarterback and wide receiver. Obviously we know that the season didn't go as expected, but it went astronomically better than anyone had thought and Brown became a bit less hated in Cincinnati because he gave in and traded Palmer to Oakland and set up the Bengals for one of the most important drafts in recent history.
Oh, also, because of the show of support Bengals fans had for the team before the season finale against Baltimore, Brown decided to lower ticket prices for next year. It is strange for any Bengals fan to hear, especially after the last 20 years, but Mike Brown is doing a good job. Will it be enough to put fans in the seats next year and sell out our home games? If not, it would be safe to assume that the Bengals 2012 home schedule will have quite a few storylines that fans might be interested in seeing live.
Although the final schedule won't be released until April, the NFL released the 2012 opponents schedule and there are several teams that will be visiting the Queen City in 2012 that will be big draws for both casual and devout Bengals fans.
1. The Usual Suspects: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.
It will be no surprise to see the Pittsburgh and Baltimore game sell out next year. Both teams swept the Bengals in 2011 and the revenge factor will be a significant selling point for many Bengals fans in their decision to buy tickets. Plus, any AFC North game is always physical, gritty, and a lot of fun to watch. Not to mention, it might be the last opportunity to see Hall-of-Fame players like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Hines Ward live. The Cleveland game is never a lock for selling out, but depending on how the draft pans out for each team (both teams have two first round picks), it might end up being a competitive game between two rising teams in the AFC (North).
The Bengals have two games that might be up for a prime time slot, aside from their AFC North rivals, and it is for very interesting reasons. First, the Broncos have beaten the Bengals in their last three meetings (the "catch heard 'round the world" at home in 2009 and this past year against a Tebow-less Broncos in Denver) and you can never count out the Tebow-factor. This game will not only be important for the Bengals to avenge their last three meetings, but it will be against a playoff team that will be led by Tim Tebow. The game itself should be a draw for many fans because of how well the Broncos did last year and them coming into town will be a big test for the Cincinnati defense, but many fans in Cincinnati love Tebow and would pay anything to see him play in person. Along with this, the Raiders game has the better opportunity to become a Sunday or Monday night game because it will be the first time since January 2010 that Carson Palmer will have stepped foot in Cincinnati. Fans in Cincinnati are still split on their feelings regarding Palmer, but when he comes into town to play the Bengals, 100 percent of fans will be pining for Atkins, Peko, or Dunlap to hit him...hard. Commissioner Goodell recently stated that all 32 NFL teams will get at least one prime time game and if the Bengals only get one prime time game it would probably be the game with the biggest headline, and it doesn't get much bigger than the return of Carson Palmer to Cincinnati. Prime time games are so infrequent in Cincinnati that if any of the home games are made prime time, they are a lock for selling out.
3. The "super" factor: New York Giants
The Superbowl XLVI champion New York Giants will be coming to Cincinnati in 2012 and there is little more that any Bengals fan would like to see than their home team knock off the defending champs. Cincinnati is 1-3 in their last four meetings against the Giants, and having Eli Manning come to town after the highest viewed Superbowl in history has the possibility of a huge draw for many casual fans in Cincinnati. If the Bengals do as well next season as some think, this game will be a serious test for them and we could find out if the Bengals are ready to make their way into the top tier of NFL Superbowl contenders. Many commentators have also been debating about the Bengals signing Mario Manningham away from the Giants in free agency this year and, even though it is yet to happen, it would create yet another intriguing story line for Bengals fans.
Neither the Dolphins nor the Cowboys are significant rivals of the Bengals, but these games have their own appeal to many fans. The Cowboys are one of the most storied teams in the NFL and were a contender for the NFC East title last year. They have a lot of weapons on offense and will be an interesting test for the Bengals that fans will not want to miss. Plus, there might be an influx of female fans simply because of the presence of Tony Romo on the field. The Dolphins are certainly the least attractive game on the schedule, but if rumors become reality and the Dolphins are able to acquire Peyton Manning, then this game gets a bit more interesting. Both of these games are certainly questionable on whether or not they will sell out, but they surely have the potential to be major draws for Cincinnati fans, especially if they are at the end of the season and the Bengals are fighting for playoff position.
2012 will most certainly be more difficult than 2011, but with the combination of high hopes for the team, lower ticket prices, and lucrative opponents, the Bengals will have the fan support that was missing last year, save the Baltimore finalé. Hopefully, next season, fans will come out in droves and restore Paul Brown Stadium to what it once was: The Jungle.