Never before have these teams faced off in Week 1 of a new season. Everything’s as fresh as it can be, but some things will definitely look familiar. You can check out the odds for today’s game courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
These are the four matchups we’re most excited to watch on Sunday.
Cordell Volson vs. Cameron Heyward
Welcome to the NFL, rook. Volson will be a long ways away from North Dakota on Sunday as he’ll meet one of the best interior defensive linemen in the game. Heyward has been a career Bengal-killer since he first dawned the black and yellow 11 years ago. He’s seen every guard Cincinnati has trotted out there for the last decade, good and bad. We don’t know where Volson falls on the spectrum just yet, but he’s got a monumental first task in front of him.
What the coaches should be looking for is if Volson can slow down Heyward in his first 1.5 seconds as a pass rusher. The Bengals seem to instruct their guards to utilize jump sets, which is effective if the initial punch lands correctly, but Heyward is masterful with his hands and can disengage most who line up against him. If Volson can occupy him for most of the game and lose slow instead of fast, the offense can stay on schedule.
La’el Collins vs. T.J. Watt
Volson vs. Heyward isn’t the only matchup in the trenches to watch for. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year will face off with the Bengals’ best right tackle since at least the peak of Andre Smith (he was better than you remember). The Bengals know what Watt brings to the table. They have high hopes that Collins can neutralize him.
The question will be how much help Collins receives. Watt commands at minimum the attention of a tight end chipping him off the edge, essentially forcing him to rush the passer twice. Cincinnati will surely key in on slowing Watt down in crucial moments, but with Collins as the main roadblock, there will be plenty of one-on-one reps for Collins to prove his worth on his new team.
Trey Hendrickson vs. Dan Moore Jr.
Hendrickson hasn’t much to prove at this point, to the Bengals at least. No. 91 solidified himself as the sack artist they paid him to be last year. One of his better games in 2021 was against the Steelers in Week 12 when he registered six pressures and a sack, all while lining up against Moore.
Not even the Steelers can say they have confidence in their offensive line, and while Moore represents a semblance of continuity at left tackle, he’s the clear underdog in this matchup. If Hendrickson can consistently beat him to the edge, it’ll be another long day for the Steelers’ left tackle, and Mitchell Trubisky’s debut won’t be pretty.
Eli Apple vs. Chase Claypool
The Bengals-Steelers renewed rivalry has a unique battle within the overall matchup. Apple and Claypool have grown taken on personas that are beloved by their own locker rooms and fanbases and are borderline despised by others. It’s only fitting that they line up across from one another inside the white lines.
Each player got the other last year in Week 12. Claypool climbed the latter over Apple for a 41-yard sideline grab, but not before Apple notched an interception on the game’s first drive. Claypool has the size advantage, but Apple’s got a physicality in coverage that will have him primed for another round. This will be a back-and-forth affair for sure.