As the last-place AFC North squad from 2019, the Bengals were assigned two AFC opponents who finished last place in the AFC divisions they aren’t playing this year. Those two, the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers (who come to Cincinnati in Week 1!), will act as competitive foes, but we’re more interested in the games that will test Cincinnati the most.
Here’s our top five toughest games the Bengals will have to play in this season, ordered by when they’ll happen.
Thursday, September 17th, Week 2 at Cleveland Browns
Both in 2017 and 2018, the Bengals hosted Thursday night games in Week 2 of those seasons. Two years later, they will travel up I-71 a few days after their home opener against the Chargers. The Browns—like most years—will be hungry to prove worthy of offseason hype, and the Dawg Pound will provide a hostile environment for Joe Burrow’s first road start on a short week.
Mind you, the Bengals have lost three of their last four games against the Browns, with last year’s season finale being the lone win. They haven’t won in Cleveland since 2017. This is their opportunity to officially turn the tide back in the other direction. It will also be Burrow’s primetime debut.
Sunday, September 27th, Week 3 at Philadelphia Eagles
Well, at least they’ll have a nine-day rest period between the Browns game and this one.
You may not remember, but the Eagles made the playoffs last year and finished as the 11th-best team according to Football Outsider’s DVOA metric. Their team features one of the more well-rounded rosters in the NFL and Carson Wentz has still been an above average quarterback since his MVP-caliber season in 2017.
Zac Taylor and Burrow will have two tough road tests in the first month of the season.
Sunday, October 11th, Week 5 at Baltimore Ravens
They’re the kings of the north, and they deserve the respect they’ve earned.
The last time the Bengals faced Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, Nick Vigil became a meme from one spin move. Just five weeks into the season, the Ravens should still be a formidable foe early in the year and Jackson won’t be any slower a year later. He’s a tough quarterback for the Bengals to stop until they do, especially on the road.
Sunday, November 1st, Week 8 vs. Tennessee Titans
Before they get to their Week 9 bye week, the 2019 AFC South runner ups, who extinguished the Ravens’ fireworks in the playoffs, will come to Cincinnati. The Titans could see massive regression from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry, but their defense managed to do things to that Ravens offense that no other unit could. They also ended Tom Brady’s career with the New England Patriots.
They could end up being frauds a month into the season, but for now, they’re an intimidating threat.
Monday, December 21st, Week 15 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati’s second primetime game of course comes against their most hated rivals. At this point, the Bengals could be in the playoff race or fighting to not be last in the division again. Either is entirely possible.
What we do know is that the Bengals haven’t beaten the Steelers since 2015. They haven’t beaten the Steelers in Paul Brown Stadium since 2013, when they won on Monday Night Football early in that season.
Whether it’s Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, or Devlin Hodges under center, the Steelers will reign supreme over the Bengals until the status quo changes. In a primetime setting, this would be a narrative-altering night, regardless of their records.