When it comes to big NFL events, it's hard to find many things to get excited about between the Super Bowl and when NFL training camps begin in July.
So the NFL's annual release of that year's regular-season schedule gets turned into quite the spectacle, and this year is no different for the Cincinnati Bengals. That's because Cincy is once again expected to have a winning season and be a playoff team that possibly competes for a Super Bowl.
We now have a clearer picture of what a potential road to Super Bowl 51 looks like now that the 2016 regular-season schedule is set. For the Bengals, it will feature four primetime games, two of which are being played in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium.
The first primetime game in Paul Brown Stadium comes in Week 4 as the Miami Dolphins come to town. Miami has been a trendy surprise playoff team in recent years, but have never managed to live up to expectations while floundering to a 6-10 record last season.
Still, the Dolphins have won three straight and 15 of 20 meetings against the Bengals all-time. This game will also be the lone Thursday Night Football affair Cincinnati takes part in this season. Look out for this game to feature the NFL's new color rush uniforms meaning it may be all orange vs all teal. That should be... interesting?
The next primetime game doesn't come until Week 10 when Cincinnati clashes with the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. The G-Men may have gone 6-10 last year, but five of those losses saw New York leading in the fourth quarter. If nothing else, this should be a thrilling game that comes down to the final quarter.
Then comes a home date with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. No words are needed to describe this heated rivalry, and it's only fair that at least one matchup got primetime treatment. This game could be flexed out of primetime but, that seems HIGHLY unlikely.
The final primetime game will come on the road at the Houston Texans, which comes on Christmas eve in Week 16. That's a tough draw being that it's a road game for the holidays, not to mention Houston having won six of the past seven matchups (including playoffs) against Cincinnati.
Looking at these four games, it certainly looks much easier than the four-game primetime slate the Bengals had in 2015. That included games at Arizona, at Denver and home vs Houston. Those three teams combined for 34 wins in 2015 and a 37-27 record overall when you factor in the Cleveland Browns Thursday primetime game from 2015. That record jumps to 39-25 if you factor in their previous season's record (2014) instead.
This year, the four primetime opponents combined for a 31-33 mark in 2015. We obviously don't know what they'll do in 2016, but it's safe to think it will be at least slightly easier than last year. That's good news for the Bengals since they're coming off three-straight regular-season primetime losses, four if you count the Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh.
Also, the Bengals lost their back-to-back primetime swing between Houston and Arizona last year. Another back-to-back primetime stretch comes when the Bengals host Pittsburgh and then play at Houston.
"It's clear from the schedule that we're a team with a strong national appeal," said Katie Blackburn, Bengals executive vice-president in a press release. "We think that's an exciting factor for fans in our region, and we also look forward to opening our home season against the defending league champions."
The Bengals have never played more than four primetime games in any given season. The Bengals previously played four primetime games in 1990, 2007 and 2015. The Bengals also play a preseason game in primetime when they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Florida on Sunday night, August 28.
Here is a look at the Bengals' four regular season primetime games this year in addition to the BYE in Week 9.
|Week||Opponent||Home or Away?||Date/Time|
|Week 4||Miami Dolphins||Home||Thursday September 29, 2016, 8:25 p.m. ET|
|Week 9||BYE||BYE||Sunday, November 6, 2016|
|Week 10||New York Giants||Away||Monday, November 14, 2016, 8:25 p.m. ET|
|Week 15||Pittsburgh Steelers||Home||Sunday, December 18, 2016, 8:30 p.m. ET|
|Week 16||Houston Texans||Away||Saturday, December 24, 2016, 8:25 p.m. ET|