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Bengals “cheated” when it comes to national game exposure

Though the Bengals have had their share of high-profile games in recent seasons, they still don’t have nearly as many primetime and big stage games as other NFL teams who win as frequently.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals playing in primetime, the amount of games the club has played on the stage under Marvin Lewis is exponentially higher than during “The Lost Decade” of the 1990s. Sure, the addition of Thursday Night Football provides the team an additional opportunity every year, but the Bengals have had a couple of annual primetime opportunities with increased recent success.

Even so, with some data compiled by user Qwakeword, Cincinnati still seems to get draw the short end of the stick with opportunities to play in the highest-profile games of the season. The basis of the findings come from compiled information from 2012-2016 and is based on national television appearances as compared to a team’s winning percentage during that time.

Here are some of the guidelines used when examining the correlation and/or disparity between NFL teams and their appearances in primetime and other big games:

Most analyses of NFL scheduling use the prime-time game as their unit of measure. We think this is a flawed metric in this era of cord-cutting and the poorly-regarded Thursday Night Football. In this article, we’ll instead look at the number of national broadcast appearances each team has made between the 2012 and 2016 seasons. We’ll compare this to how well the teams perform on the field (using regular season records) to get a measure of how much exposure each team gets relative to the quality of its play. Monday Night Football games are cable-exclusive, so they aren’t counted.

Game included in the analysis:

  • Sunday Night Football on NBC
  • National Sunday afternoon games
  • Thursday and Saturday games that are broadcast on CBS, NBC or FOX


  • Monday Night Football games are on ESPN, which is cable-exclusive, so they weren’t counted.
  • Thursday Night Football games that are only on NFL Network were not counted. For the last two years, the Bengals’ TNF game has been exclusively on NFL Network.

One of the references used in showing the disparity between winning percentages and the amount of national appearances is in the Baltimore Ravens. They were televised 11 times in the games that fit their criteria from 2012-2016, but they figure that their regular-season winning percentage of .513 warrants about 2.4 more appearances on those types of games.

In the five years in which the data was collected, the Bengals compiled a .627 regular-season record, but only had six national broadcasts (Thursday Night Football games on NFL Network were not included). The Bengals are grouped in a category called “the cheated”, along with the Panthers, Falcons and Cardinals. Cincinnati had the highest winning percentage in that time of any of those teams. yet, the Bengals were the most cheated team with a -15.1 "total minus expected" score. Per the formula used, the Bengals should have played 21.1 games from 2012-2016 in primetime and on the big stage, if the games were decided by winning percentages. There’s even a point in the study where it says, “with the exception of Cincinnati, CBS mostly grants coverage to teams in accordance to how well they play.”


The study surmises there is a specific perception with these clubs and their lack of appearances in big-stage games. One reason they point to is a lack of individual star power on these respective squads.

But, when you look at the rosters of those teams in that span, the argument doesn’t really hold weight. Whether it’s in Atlanta’s exciting offense with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Arizona’s with Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, the Cam Newton-led Carolina squad, or the myriad of Pro Bowlers Cincinnati employs on both sides of the ball, these teams all have exciting players.

However, there are two specific stigmas these teams share: a lack of Super Bowl wins and the teams coming from mid-market cities. These two aspects bring teams to the forefront of the casual NFL fan’s mind, hence why teams like the Patriots (30), Giants (29), Steelers (27) and Eagles (22) are at the top of the list, in terms of their amount of appearances on the national stage.

What also might be playing against the Bengals’ favor in gaining more appearances, particularly in recent years, is their poor performances on primetime. Cincinnati routinely lays eggs when the nation is watching, whether it was in their 2014 loss to the Browns on Thursday Night Football, 2015’s yawn-fest against the Texans, or the Christmas Eve debacle on Christmas Eve once again against Houston.

Even after a six-win season in 2016, we should still expect the team to have a couple of primetime games once again this year. With a top-10 pick that could yield a household name from the college ranks, perhaps it could propel the Bengals into more high-profile games in the future.