PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 04: A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals catches a touchdown pass in the first half in front of Ike Taylor #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 4, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
In case you have been living under a rock, the NFL released the schedule for our beloved Cincinnati Bengals. To sum up what their schedule looks like, it starts off relatively easy, gets harder towards the middle but have no road games for a calendar month, and gets pretty brutal towards the last month and a half. We'll be seeing the eight teams from both the AFC West and NFC East, as well as the six games against the familiar foes of the AFC North. While nobody really knows who will actually be good and who will fail to live up to expectations, it's always fun to predict wins and losses while dissecting the match ups. By first glance, this year's schedule is a bit more daunting than that of 2011.
That being said, here's a top-ten list of must-watch Bengals games for 2012. Even though we're only omitting six of the total sixteen, it was still a tough debate on which ones to put up on this list as there are a lot of good match ups. Click the jump to see the countdown.
10.) Week 13--Cincinnati Bengals at San Diego Chargers: This one has a personal touch to it, as I'll likely be attending this game with family and friends here in Southern California. It's become a bit of a tradition for my brother and I to attend this matchup when it's slated out here on the west coast, and we make a great time of it while even getting to meet some celebrities. But, personal feelings aside, this is usually a great matchup between the squads and it's rarely a "yawner". In 2009, the game was high on emotions because of the recently-deceased Chris Henry and was full of big plays and was ultimately decided by a last-second field goal by the Chargers. The following season, Jerome Simpson had his coming-out party in a home victory for the Bengals against San Diego at the end of a disappointing 2010 campaign. Cincinnati hasn't traditionally played well when traveling out west and they'll have to do so against Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Ryan Matthews. Will they get it done in an important late-season game?
9.) Week 14--Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals: Though this game means nothing in the grand scheme of conference and division standings, it comes with the fanfare of hosting "America's Team". Dallas was disappointing last season, but they're a squad that's not to be taken likely. This matchup will feature two good quarterbacks in Tony Romo and Andy Dalton, two good tight ends in Jason Witten and Jermaine Gresham, and two exciting, young receivers in Dez Bryant and A.J. Green. Both teams could be fighting for their playoff lives in this early-December game and it could be a must-win depending on the previous week's outcome against the Chargers. There is also the storyline of a couple of former Cowboys facing their old squad in Adam Jones and Terence Newman. It should be a good one.
8.) Week 9--Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals: Though the media frenzy that would normally surround Tim Tebow won't be coming to Cincinnati, a new look Broncos team led by recently-signed Peyton Manning, will be. Any time a future Hall of Fame quarterback comes to Paul Brown Stadium is a must-watch. The Broncos are coming off of a playoff season, have placed all of their chips to the middle of the table with Manning and are looking to make a Super Bowl run. The Bengals will be looking for revenge
7.) Week 10--New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals: Like the game against the Cowboys, this game means nothing for conference or division standings. But, when the defending Super Bowl champs are coming to your house, it's a big game. The Bengals will likely be revved up to play the G-Men and make a statement to the rest of the NFL. This game is the last during a span of a month where the Bengals don't have a road game (three home games and their bye week) and the beginning of a really tough ending stretch. The Giants always seem to ramp up their performance towards the middle and end of the year, so this should be a bruiser.
6.) Week 16--Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: While this seems a bit low for for a late-season game against the hated Steelers, keep in mind that they have a huge home game on national television against the team earlier in the year and have a more important game one week later. Still, this one will likely go a long way in deciding the AFC North division and will show just how much the team has matured under second-year quarterback Andy Dalton. This one will likely be a bloodbath and will feature many new faces, as some of the Steeler mainstays have been released and/or have retired. This one will determine the importance of the next week's game in one capacity or another.
5.) Week 15--Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles: The Bengals' only Thursday Night Football game and the last offered by the NFL Network, there will be a plethora of playmakers on the field. This game cold lose a lot of its luster if Michael Vick is hurt (as he often is), but if he's playing, he will likely provide a lot of problems for the Bengals' defense. The underachieving 2011 Eagles team is now a year older and will likely be pretty scary with a full offseason for the "Dream Team" to work together. This one will probably feature a lot of points, weather permitting, as players like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, Vick, Dalton, Green, Gresham and others will all be on stage. Another big statement game here in their first appearance on TNF since Thanksgiving 2010.
4.) Week 7--Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: The first game of two that the rivals will face-off could be deemed a must-win to put themselves in good position for the tough stretch at the end of the year. This tough game is at the end of a generous stretch of games, so getting a victory could be key. Some say that the Steelers won't be as formidable because they've lost a number of players and are aging on defense. We will all get to see just how accurate that is. Depending on their health, this could be one of the first games we see both Rashard Mendenhall and Leon Hall who are both rehabbing late-season injuries. This Sunday Night Football matchup is the first that the Bengals have had since facing off against the Jets late in the 2009 season. It sure would be nice to see a great showing from the boys in stripes while in PBS.
3.) Week 17--Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: As Yogi Berra once said, "it's deja vu all over again". In a game that could determine if the Bengals are in or out of the playoffs, this game will be huge. Why isn't it ranked higher? Because in the craziness of an NFL season, this game could wind up meaning nothing--much like the one last season. Both teams could be in the playoffs, one could be resting players, or one or both could be out. Given the success of both teams last year, it's unlikely that this game won't mean something, but there's always the chance. This will be a redemption game for one of the clubs and could have major playoff implications. PBS will be rocking for sure.
2.) Week 12--Oakland Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals: In any other year, this matchup may have struggled to make this list. But, with Carson Palmer making his first trip back to Cincinnati since demanding a trade last season, this game takes on a whole new meaning. If the Bengals defense isn't on fire to get after
No.9 No.3, then I don't know what would get them jacked up. It's a bit surprising that this one wasn't slated for primetime, but there's still the chance of it getting flexed into Sunday Night. The Raiders should be competitive and so should the matchup, but all eyes will be on Palmer's reception from fans and Dalton's performance in front of his predecessor.
1.) Week 1--Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: No matter what, this game will mean something to both teams. They'll both be 0-0 and this game is enormous for confidence and making headway in the tough AFC North division. As is the case with the Steelers, many are claiming that age has caught up with the Ravens and we'll get to see right away if that's the case. If the Bengals win this game, they'll be 1-0 going into five straight very winnable games. The Bengals haven't traditionally done well on Opening Day and this is a major opportunity for them under the bright lights of Monday Night Football.
There's our list. I bet you're asking yourself "what about the Cleveland Browns?". Fair question, but do you actually get as geeked up for "Browns Week" as you do for "Steelers Week"? Usually those game are dogs (pardon the pun) to watch and until the Browns are more competitive, we'll leave them off. Would you make any changes?