It’s not a divisional game, it’s not even a conference game, but it might just be the most important game in recent Cincinnati Bengals history.
At 3-1, the Bengals are set to host the Green Bay Packers in front of a sellout crowd. A near national audience will be observing to see if this team is truly legitimate, like their record says they are. And as things are looking up from an injury perspective, the Bengals have a good shot at rewriting some narratives against a dangerous opponent.
Here are the players and matchups to watch for.
Joe Mixon is indeed active today despite dealing with an ankle sprain. If his snaps are limited, however, Evans should be in line to play more snaps today than he’s played in first four weeks combined. Look for the Bengals to open up their passing game early to avoid falling behind to the Packers. Evans can help in that regard as a receiver.
Matchup to watch: De’Vondre Campbell
Defensively, Green Bay has not been that impressive this season, but Campbell has been an exception. The veteran linebacker signed a one-year deal with the Pack this offseason and has been performing at a high level in coverage.
The return of Higgins could not have come at a better time. The offense managed to put up enough points during his absence, but there’s definitely room for improvement. As one of the Migos, Higgins’ skillset is imperative for Zac Taylor’s offense to reach its full potential. Considering he was a full participant during Friday’s practice, we should expect to see Higgins at 100% capacity.
Matchup to watch: Eric Stokes
Ja’Marr Chase and his SEC background may know Stokes better than Higgins, but Stokes typically lines against the right side of the offense, which is where Higgins will run the majority of his routes from. A first-round pick out of Georgia, Stokes has flashed in his first few games, but the entire Packers’ secondary are going to be overmatched playing without Jaire Alexander.
Through four games, Reiff has been precisely who the Bengals expected him to be; not spectacular, but not not terrible either. He’s the only starting lineman to have not been penalized yet. He had a rough outing against the Chicago Bears, but he bounced back well last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars. A veteran against the NFC North, Reiff knows all too well about the Packers’ pass rush.
Matchup to watch: Rashan Gary
In his third year, the freakishly-athletic Gary is finally producing as a pass-rusher. He leads Green Bay in pressures and pass-rush win rate to start the season and will be counted on to continue that with Za’Darius Smith not playing. Look for Gary to test the edge against Reiff on passing downs.
Despite suffering a knee injury against the Jags, Ogunjobi finished that game and is set to play in this one. The fifth-year defensive tackle has been quiet as a pass-rusher since Week 1, but he’s consistently been disruptive against the run. Just look at that Week 4 goal-line stand again. Ogunjobi needs a great game in both phases as the Bengals will try to pressure Aaron Rodgers from the interior.
Matchup to watch: Royce Newman
The Packers are down two opening day starters in this game at left tackle and center, but those replacements might still be better than Newman, who’s been their starting right guard all season. Pro Football Focus has graded only one other starting guard worse in run blocking.
Awuzie’s return to the secondary gives the Bengals five starting defensive backs for the first time in...two years? What a week to finally buck that trend! In his first three games, Awuzie looked the part after a dominant training camp before suffering a groin injury. There were just too many big plays allowed with Eli Apple and Darius Phillips in coverage. Awuzie’s primary responsibility will be to limit those moments.
Matchup to watch: Davante Adams
Awuzie will have the immense responsibility of matching up with Adams all game long. Since Chad Johnson’s retirement, no wide receiver has quite matched Ochocinco’s quickness in route running like Adams. He’s the separation king, and Rodgers trusts him like no other. Good luck, No. 22.