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Ranking the Bengals’ schedule by difficulty of opposing quarterback play

The Bengals face a number of elite quarterbacks in 2018. Here, we analyze the team’s schedule based on the level of quarterback play that can be expected each week.

Cincinnati Bengals v Atlanta Falcons

In the NFL, the quarterback position is the most important on the field and how high your quarterback ranks often is a good indicator of how good your team will be. With that in mind, we’re taking former NFL offensive lineman (and SB Nation writer) Geoff Schwartz’s idea and analyzing the Bengals’ 2018 schedule based on opposing quarterbacks.

I’ve broken the quarterbacks the Bengals will face this season into a few categories to do this: elite, very good, good, not too scary and not yet sure. Not yet sure is where teams sit that might play a rookie, haven’t yet decided on their quarterback or have a big question they’re still facing at the position. With that explained, let’s get to the ranking, which features many impressive quarterbacks facing off against the Bengals this season.


Week 4: Matt Ryan, the Falcons

The Falcons game should be one of the hardest on the Bengals’ schedule as Matt Ryan has climbed his way to the elite category of NFL quarterbacks. Ryan has posted a rating above 89.0 in each of the last four years and has passed for more than 4,000 yards in each of the last seven years. He’s a threat as are his targets like Julio Jones and former Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. This Week 4 contest will not be an easy one for the Bengals on the road. But, the Falcons’ new stadium is awesome and Bengals fans should consider traveling to this game to support the team.

Week 10: Drew Brees, the Saints

Drew Brees is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, though he’s on the backend of his career. Brees’ passer rating has surpassed 101 in each of the last three seasons and he even threw for more than 5,000 yards in 2016. He’s a future Hall of Famer and one of the best to play the game. The Saints had a strong 2017 season, boosted by their surprisingly amazing defense. I expect the Saints to keep progressing in 2018 and Brees should make this a tough matchup for the Bengals coming out of the bye week.

Week 14: Philip Rivers, the Chargers

Another future Hall of Famer entering the twilight of his career, Philip Rivers is also among the best quarterbacks in the league. Though his teammates have often let him down, he does all he can to not let that impact his play. This is a game the Bengals could win as they’ve taken down Rivers before, but it won’t be easy. The Chargers are currently playing at StubHub Center in Carson, California which holds just 27,000 fans and is a unique experience. It would be awesome to see lots of orange and black in the crowd to help distract Rivers and Co.

Very good

Week 6 and Week 17: Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger could have gone into the elite category but he continues the trend of quarterbacks nearing the end of their NFL journeys and at this point I’d say he’s very good but not elite. Maybe that’s wishful, Bengals fan thinking. Roethlisberger has boasted a passer rating above 93 in each of the last three years while helping the Steelers to double digit wins in each of the last two years. And while he can be inconsistent, Roethlisberger also can rise to the occasion with the help of his top-notch weapons: Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. These games will be tough, especially ending the season in Pittsburgh. With that said, if Andy Dalton can play his best football and the Bengals’ defense pressures Roethlisberger into playing his worst football, anything is possible.

Week 3: Cam Newton, the Panthers

Cam Newton’s 2015 season is seeming like an anomaly at this point. He won NFL MVP after throwing for 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns and a passer rating of 99.4 that season. Since then, he’s posted passer ratings of 75.8 and 80.7, which rank him into our very good category. Newton will face the Bengals in Carolina in just the third week of the season, and it would have been better for the Bengals to see this matchup later on the schedule. As a mobile quarterback, Newton has a way of getting badly banged up as the season wears on, but he’ll be pretty fresh this early on. In 2015, the Panthers won 14 straight games to open the season. But in 2016 Carolina lost four of its first five games. Last year, they won four of their first five. So, they’ve been up and down but I don’t love this matchup for the Bengals and have too much confidence in Newton to be comfortable. Oh, and remember the last Bengals-Panthers game. Ugh, I do as I was there in Cincinnati for the game, which ended in a TIE. There’s not much that’s worse than a tie game. I might need to go to this one hoping to at least see a real ending. But really, I’m almost definitely going; who else is in?!


Week 13: Case Keenum or TBD, the Broncos

At the start of the 2017 season, who would have thought that Case Keenum would go on to win 12 games for his team and lead the Vikings all the way to the NFC Championship game?Not me; that’s for sure. And there’s not only that, but he was a highly sought after quarterback in free agency this year. Keenum falls in the good category and not better because he’s just so up and down and 2017 was the only impressive year of his career since going undrafted in 2012. This game also could have gone in the not yet sure category, because there’s a chance the Broncos draft a quarterback. But, it’s pretty safe to say even if they do, he won’t start in his rookie year. Who knows what to expect from Keenum this year, but for now, I’m categorizing him and the Broncos as nothing better than good.

Not too scary

Week 15: Derek Carr, the Raiders

Carr had a great 2016 season and then a not great 2017 season. He shouldn’t pose too much of a threat after going 6-9 last season. The Raiders lost Michael Crabtree and while they’ve signed a lot of players in free agency with new coach Jon Gruden at the helm, none seem all that scary. Jordy Nelson is the most notable offensive addition and an upgrade over Crabtree, but still, this is a game the Bengals should win. Carr is basically an average quarterback and if the Bengals want to bounce back from the last two years of failure, this is a game the team should win.

Week 2 and Week 11: Joe Flacco, the Ravens

Is Joe Flacco elite? No. No, he is not. He’s in the not-too-scary category as the Bengals have mostly had their way with the Ravens, save for an abysmal showing in Week 1 of the 2017 season. The Bengals host the Ravens in Week 2 and Baltimore will be coming to Cincinnati with revenge on the mind following the Bengals knocking them out of the playoffs to close the 2017 season. But, the Bengals will be seeking revenger of their own: revenge from their Week 2 TNF loss last season, that was so terrible it caused Ken Zampese to be fired as offensive coordinator. Flacco has posted passer ratings between 80.4 and 83.5 in each of the last three years, all of which have seen the Ravens miss the playoffs. Flacco has his moments, but more moments are bad ones than good ones at this point. The Ravens are bringing in every average receiver they can to help out their quarterback, but the Bengals should continue to embarrass the Ravens in this matchup. Andy Dalton has the upper-hand here.

Week 5: Ryan Tannehill or TBD, the Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill missed all of last season with a left knee injury so it’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back. With that said, he’s no better than an average quarterback and this is another game the Bengals will need to win based on the difficulty of the rest of the schedule. Tannehill’s record as a starter is 37-40 with his most recent season being an 8-5 outing where he threw for less than 3,000 yards and just 19 touchdowns. Tannehill has never led the Dolphins to a winning season and the Bengals should do their part to give Miami a loss in Week 5 at Paul Brown Stadium.

Week 8: Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers

Last year, I had pretty solid hopes for Jameis Winston entering the season. He did nothing to validate those hopes as the Buccaneers failed to meet expectations. I don’t see much changing for Tampa Bay this year with Winston quarterbacking the team. Winston has a passer rating of 87.2 after three years in the league and his 69:44 touchdown to interception ratio is a big concern. Like the others in this category, this is a game the Bengals need to do everything in their power to win. Not a great quarterback, not a great team and Chris Baker can be set up for a revenge game after the Bucs cut him this offseason.

Not yet sure

Week 1: Andrew Luck or Jacoby Brissett, the Colts

Andrew Luck easily would have been in the elite category back in 2016 but after missing all of last season, Luck’s future seems to be in flux. I’ve been doubting his future in the NFL for quite a while now based on the scarce injury updates. As of Friday, he still hasn’t thrown a football since suffering a shoulder injury; that’s scary. That means it’s been over a year since Luck threw a pass. I believe Luck’s future is more in question then the Colts have let on and it’s possible (if not probable) Luck doesn’t play in this Week 1 game. If he does play, he’ll be rusty and won’t have played a regular-season game of football since January 1, 2017. The Bengals faced Jacoby Brissett in 2017 and won the game, though it was an ugly and awful game for both teams. So, with questions at the position, this is a not yet sure matchup but really one the Bengals need to win to set the tone for the season.

Week 7: Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes played one game for the Chiefs at the end of the 2017 season and he did quite well. The 2017 first round pick won his only start of the season in a game that meant nothing for the Chiefs who already clinched the playoffs prior to Week 17. He was 22/35 for 284 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception. That amounted to a 76.4 passer rating. Not great, but, he won. The sample size is too small to really reflect on but Mahomes had some great passes in that game and showed enough promise for the Chiefs to trade away Alex Smith to Washington. This game is in Week 7, so he’ll have had some time by then to get accustomed to life as an NFL starter, but there’s too many questions here to really rank Mahomes.

Week 12 and Week 16: Tyrod Taylor or TBD, the Browns

Who will be the Browns’ quarterback in 2018? If you ask Hue Jackson today, he’ll say Tyrod Taylor is the guy for all of 2018 and no rookie quarterback will play. Oh, Hue. Please stop. This is really something he said last week, and I just can’t take it. I think Marvin Lewis needs to call his pal and give him a lesson in shutting his mouth. But hey, what do I know? So, since we don’t really know who will start for the Browns in 2018, they’re in this not yet sure category. The Browns games have been easy wins for the Bengals in recent years and you’d have to think Cleveland will be better in 2018 than their 1-31 record in the last two seasons combined. That said, these are going to have to be games the Bengals win, especially the Week 16 matchup. Whether it’s Taylor at quarterback — who the Bengals have beaten before — or a rookie, the only option is winning if the Bengals want to have a winning season.