Historically, the Bengals have been a mixed bag in terms of playing in the first game of the season. Through 48 years of professional football, they have compiled a record of 22-26 in these games. That includes a 1-1 record in season openers against the New York Jets.
However, what has not been a mixed bag is how important the season opener is for the Bengals. In the 22 season which they opened with a win, they have finished with a record of .500 or better 14 times. In fact, both Bengals teams that reached the Super Bowl did so after winning their season opener. But, in the 26 seasons in which they opened with a loss, the Bengals finished with a record of .500 or worse 18 times. Only in 15 of the team’s 48 total seasons did the Bengals finish with a record that did not reflect how they performed in their season opener. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton explained just how important getting that first win in Week 1 can be to an NFL team.
“It’s big. You want to start fast,” Dalton said in his weekly press conference. “You want to get ahead as much as you can. Half the teams win, half the teams lose. So if you can take this first one, it would be big. That’s our mentality.”
Dalton’s history with season openers is generally pretty good. In his very first season with the Bengals, Cincinnati came out of the gates strong to secure a 27-17 win over the division rival Cleveland Browns.
“We won and I only played a half [due to injury],” Dalton said, laughing. “There were a little bit of nerves. Like I said, I remember it was 9/11, which is a cool moment. But we did enough to win.”
In five seasons, Dalton’s Bengals have won three of their five season openers and posted winning records each year in the process. Before Dalton came to the Bengals, they were 3-4 in season openers under Marvin Lewis. Dalton’s influence and understanding of the importance of the first game of the season has clearly been a positive influence in these early season games, reversing what was once looking like a problematic trend.
This year, the season opener will take place on the road against a tough team who just barely missed the playoffs last year. After that, the Bengals will continue a very tough early stretch against the Steelers and Broncos. So, it will be important for the Bengals to get things together now against one of their potential competitors in the AFC. The Bengals will need to jump right into the habit of studying hard for their upcoming opponents, especially given the fact that they could look like a much different team in 2016.
“They may have a new personality, they may have some new guys. You’ve just got to prepare for it as much as you can,” Dalton said. “You’ve got to look at the whole season. You’ve got a lot of film to watch. There’s a lot of different looks you’re going to get from teams, so there’s a lot you need to look at just to make sure you’re prepared as much as you can.”
However, all of the studying, practice, and game film in the world simply won’t be enough to be prepared for everything the Jets throw at the Bengals in Week 1. As Dalton said, the nice thing about Week 1 is that you have an entire season of game film to study. But, the downside is that preparing too much for what a team looked like last year could cause you to miss what they will look like this year. To an extent, the Bengals are just going to have to come out and play their tough brand of hard-nosed football and tune out the distractions.
“At the end of the day, it's just football,” Dalton said. “Just trust yourself. You've put in the time, you've put in the effort, and you know what you're doing. Don't second-guess, just go out and play fast.”
An NFL football season is 16 games long, so a win or loss in Week 1 won’t guarantee the Bengals failure or success on the year. But, it’s always a great opportunity to start the season with some real momentum. In this particular case, getting a win against an AFC competitor in a tough early game stretch will certainly instill a lot of confidence.