For 33 years, the teams labored together in the old AFC Central before the NFL realignment changed the landscape in 2002. That was the year that Cincinnati moved to the newly-created AFC North, while Tennessee headed to the AFC South. After playing each other twice a year during those previous years, the teams have met only seven times since.
The Titans’ franchise leads the overall series by a margin of 39-33-1. Since moving to Tennessee in 1997, the Titans have dominated the Bengals. After splitting the first two games of the series, Tennessee ran off seven straight victories before pulled out a 23-21 victory in 2001 in a game that saw Corey Dillon become the Bengals’ all-time leading rusher.
Dillon managed 87 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns for Cincinnati, but it was a 33-yard field goal by Neil Rackers with 20 seconds left that provided the winning margin.
Tennessee currently owns an 11-6 margin in the series, although Cincinnati has won four of the last five meetings, including by a 33-7 margin the last time the teams played, in 2014.
Prior to last year, Tennessee had managed to post a winning record in only one of its previous seven seasons, and that came in 2011, the premier season for the Bengals’ duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Tennessee finished that season with a record of 9-7, but it did not get any help from Cincinnati.
The Titans had jumped out to a 17-7 lead in that 2011 matchup before Dalton put together the third of his 15 fourth-quarter comebacks. Dalton hit Andre Caldwell with a 5-yard scoring strike with 10:52 left, and Mike Nugent tacked on a 36-yard field goal with just under two minutes left to guide the Bengals to a 24-17 victory.
In its Super Bowl season of 1988, Cincinnati suffered what was then its second-most lopsided loss in team history with a 41-6 thrashing at the hands of the Oilers in the second-to-last game of the season.
The Bengals were in a pitched battle with Houston and Cleveland for control of the division, and the Oilers’ win kept things interesting right down to the wire. As the score would indicate, Houston completely dominated Cincinnati, out-gaining the Bengals by a margin of 396-226.
“I didn’t think anyone could beat us this bad,” Cincinnati head coach Sam Wyche said after the game. “We had a series of out-of-sync kind of plays early in the game and were never able to recover. Football is a fragile game. When you get out of sync, even small mistakes can make it worse. There’s not much to say. Houston just outplayed us.”
Two years later, Cincinnati faced Houston in the Wild Card Playoffs, and the Bengals extracted some measure of revenge with a 41-14 beatdown of the Oilers.