The Bengals’ first game of the 2016 regular season is only a couple of days away! On Sunday, the Bengals will play the Jets in East Rutherford, New Jersey to kick off a two game road stretch before returning home in Week 3 to take on the world champion Denver Broncos. It’s a very important and intense three-game stretch in which the Bengals will face off against two 2015 playoff teams in the Steelers and Broncos, as well as a team that just barely missed the playoffs in the Jets this Sunday.
Despite missing the playoffs last year, the Jets finished with a 10-6 record as well as a top 10 running game, the No. 4 overall defense, and a passing game that really came together in the second half of the season. Heading into the 2016 season, expectations will be for the Jets to improve and make another serious push at making the playoffs.
The Bengals, on the other hand, are coming off of an astounding 12-4 season in which they handily won the AFC North, although unfortunately fizzled out in the playoffs. A re-tooled roster and new faces in the coaching staff might lead some to believe that they will need time to gel together before they return to their winning ways. Others believe that the Bengals have done as good of a job as any team could do at rebuilding their roster after suffering so many departures in the offseason.
Both teams should come out of the gates swinging to put themselves on the right track to reach their highest expectations. As it is the very first game of each teams’ season, expect a sloppier than average game with certain players looking rusty. But, the final score still counts as much as any other game in the regular season. So, each team will hope to get the most out of the following key matchups to come away with the win.
WR Brandon Marshall vs CB Adam Jones
You might be surprised to find out that Brandon Marshall was actually one of the most productive wide receivers in the NFL in 2015. Of all receivers, he had the fourth most receiving yards (1,502) and was tied for the most touchdowns (14), all on the fifth most receptions (109). The reason that might be surprising is because he had a quarterback with whom he had never worked before, Ryan Fitzpatrick, throwing him the ball the whole season. Statistically, it was his best season in the NFL, only rivaled by his debut season with the Chicago Bears (2012) in which he posted 118 receptions for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns. It was also Fitzpatrick’s best season yet.
On the flip side, Adam Jones also had his best season at his position in 2015. Granted, he wasn’t as effective as a kick returner as he has been in recent years. But, he was a very effective cornerback, recording 53 tackles, one sack, 12 pass deflections, three interceptions, and a forced fumble, despite missing a couple of games due to injury. It was an impressive enough all-around performance that Jones earned the first Pro Bowl berth of his career after allowing only one touchdown all season. At 32-years-old, Jones has continued to look impressive through the offseason and preseason enough that he’s expected to be great again this year.
As Marshall is also 32, we’re going to see a battle of the 32 year olds on Sunday. The two players are very similar in terms of their production in 2015 and the narrative so far of their careers in the NFL. The Jets are likely to hope for quite a bit from a veteran like Marshall in Week 1, so the Bengals will be hoping that Jones can keep him in check.
Jets’ secondary vs WR A.J. Green
On paper, a matchup between former greatest cornerback in the NFL Darrelle Revis, and one of the current top wide receivers in the NFL, A.J. Green, would be an exciting matchup to watch and analyze. But, the Jets have already confirmed that Revis will receive some help to cover the Bengals’ fifth year wide receiver and five time Pro Bowler.
Therefore, this matchup just got a lot more interesting. Depending on what schemes and packages the Jets decide to use to either cover Green up or throw him off, he will probably either come away with a huge game or open up numerous chances for other receivers like Brandon LaFell or Tyler Boyd to break out.
If the Jets were to tell cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Buster Skrine, as well as safeties Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist to focus their attention on Green, you could bet Green probably won’t have a great day, although other Bengals players probably will. If it’s just Green vs Revis with occasional zone packages designed to keep the Bengals’ passing game down with a slight emphasis on Green, it almost definitely wouldn’t be enough to keep him from making an impact. The Jets will just have to decide whom they prefer to give the opportunities to do damage.
NT Steve McLendon vs C Russell Bodine
Steve McLendon isn’t exactly a household name but, he is an accomplished starting defensive tackle, formerly with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who can wreak havoc against unsuspecting teams. Through seven games against the Cincinnati Bengals in his career, he has recorded six tackles and 1.5 sacks. Those numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping, but he usually manages to make enough of an impact, which is why the Jets signed him as a free agent this offseason to a three year, $12 million deal.
McLendon’s size and ability to move around makes for exactly the kind of matchup that Russell Bodine tends to struggle against. But, he has been playing better this offseason and preseason. If anything, it will be really interesting to see how Bodine performs against an opponent who he has typically struggled with in the past. If he really is improving, we should see that on Sunday.