What is primetime? Depending on who you'll ask, you'll get different answers. As it relates to the NFL, primetime games are ones that take place after 7:00 p.m. EST. The primetime tag can sometimes be applied to situations when you play in the national spotlight. Still others extend the tag to any important game regardless of when it plays or who is watching. Personally, I've always considered primetime to be anything after 7:00 p.m. and playoff games.
If you're using that definition, the Bengals are 3-11 in prime time games during Andy Dalton's tenure as starting quarterback. During Marvin Lewis's tenure they're 6-23. No matter what way you spin it, both of those records are terrible and have caused Bengals fans to dread the thought of the team playing in the spotlight over the years. So it may seem terrifying that the Bengals have to play a bunch of primetime games after such a great start to the season, right?
After the Steelers game this weekend, the Bengals have nine games — and only four will be played at 1:00 p.m. EST. That means, before the end of the regular season, the Bengals have five games scheduled at a time other than 1:00 p.m. EST. Granted, one of those games will be played in the mid-afternoon (4:05 p.m.), a time slot during which the Bengals have thrived under Dalton (5-1). However, even if you don't count the game against the Cardinals' which is scheduled for 4:05, that's still nearly half of the remaining games this season that will be played in primetime.
What could go wrong?
The most obvious detriment for the Bengals here is their history with important games in the national spotlight. Andy Dalton has been having a fantastic season so far, currently holding the highest QB rating in the NFL for players with at least 10 passing attempts (116.1). However, through his 14 primetime and playoff games, he sports a meager QB rating of 65.3. If that was Dalton's QB rating for this season, that would rank somewhere between Dan Orlovsky and Ryan Mallett, who currently rank 47 and 48 in terms of QB rating, respectively.
But, the blame for the Bengals' primetime woes honestly hasn't been all Dalton's for the taking. A lot of things have gone wrong for the Bengals in primetime and the playoffs, such as a porous run defense. The Bengals' defense has been better against the run this year for the most part, but they are giving up the third most yards per run (4.9). What could go wrong in primetime? A lot could go wrong. But, to be fair, this season has been all about the Bengals winning in ways that they haven't typically won in the past. So, a lot could be right, too.
What could go right?
Let's not act like the Bengals have never gotten their act together in primetime. Discounting the playoffs, the Bengals' primetime record under Andy Dalton is 3-7. That's not good but it looks better than 3-11. Furthermore, what about last year's game against the Broncos on Monday Night Football? Dalton threw an interception and wasn't perfect for the whole game, but the team came together to grind out a hard fought win.
Let's sit back for a second and remember the Bengals are 6-0. They could return to their old ways of falling apart at critical moments, but that just isn't them this year (see: Week 5 vs Seahawks), After matching their best start in team history, you would think the Bengals will finish the season winning more than half of their remaining games. Furthermore, three of those four primetime games come against the Browns, Texans, and 49ers. All three teams appear to be in a race for the bottom of the league, so how likely is it the Bengals lose to more than one, let alone all three?
Why it's a good thing.
Take out the strength of the teams the Bengals will face in primetime this year, let's just remember some of the counterintuitive things the Bengals have accomplished this season:
- Despite having only once beaten the Raiders on their home turf in 1988 and never in Oakland, the Bengals flew to the West Coast and handed the Raiders a decisive opening loss to the season.
- Despite being 1-3 all time in Baltimore with Andy Dalton, the Bengals marched into Baltimore and engineered an exciting win.
- Despite being down 17 points in the fourth quarter, the Bengals came back to win in overtime against the Seahawks in Week 5, engineering the second largest fourth quarter comeback in team history.
- Despite never having started better than 5-0 during Marvin Lewis's tenure, the Bengals have tied their best start in franchise history with a record of 6-0.
The Bengals have broken so many assumed "trends" this year, and it is really helping their legitimacy as not only a playoff, but even a possible Super Bowl contender. These are the kind of wins the Bengals will need to learn to hold onto in the playoffs, so learning to win in primetime is important. Many Bengals fans might have flinched at the schedule when released this year, out of fear the past would come back to bite the team with all of these late primetime games. But, would you want it any other way? Would you prefer the team make the playoffs on an easy schedule and be blindsided by how well-trained and conditioned their competition is? I know I certainly wouldn't. The next 10 weeks won't be easy, but they should be fun.