The Bengals Gab staff columnists weigh in on the 2010 schedule:
Columnist Chris Dunham
Starting fast will be the key to this season for the CIncinnati Bengals.
With three of the first four games on the road to start the year and two of those four games in the division, the first five weeks could hold the key to the season for Cincinnati. It’s imperative that the team wins at least one of the first two at New England and vs. Baltimore to get going. If the Bengals go into the week five bye with a winning record, they will be in good shape as they continue to push through the schedule.
Weeks nine and 10 will be the tough tests for Cincinnati. On Nov. 8, they play their first game of the year against Pittsburgh on Monday night, then have a short week to prepare for a Sunday afternoon tilt with Peyton Manning and the always-dangerous Colts.
On a more positive note, the Bengals play three of their four home games against warm weather/dome teams on Oct. 31 or later. The last six games on the schedule are brutal, beginning with Cincinnati’s first-ever Thanksgiving game in New York against the Jets.
From that point on, the Bengals host the defending champion Saints, travel to Pittsburgh, host Cleveland and San Diego, then finish the season in Baltimore.
The Bengals played brilliantly for half a season last year, then stumbled down the stretch and into the playoffs, beating only inferior teams. There will be no such luck on the schedule this season and the team will need to be sharp for 16 weeks if it wants to repeat last season’s AFC North title run and playoff appearance.
Bengals Gab Editor Eric McMackin
Prior to the announcement of the schedule, we knew the Bengals would be ‘rewarded’ for winning the AFC North in 2009 with a very challenging road in 2010. After all, the team faces both Super Bowl participants in New Orleans and Indianapolis as well as four other playoff participants, including Baltimore (twice), New England, San Diego, and the team that proved to be their playoff kryptonite, the gang green Jets. All told, the Bengals’ 2010 opponents had a composite record of 138-118 in 2009 (.539), good for the 4th toughest schedule on paper.
Despite these daunting odds, the team has much to be grateful for in reviewing the schedule. The NFL blessed the boys in stripes with generally favorable match-ups for the first half of the year, with a stretch of very winnable games in the early going. Home dates with rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh bookend manageable contests with five teams that missed the playoffs in 2009. With any luck, the team could be looking at 5-3 or 6-2 at the turn. This dovetails well with how their 2009 started, as they took a lead in the division thanks in large part to lesser opponents
The second half gets much more difficult, with away games in Indianapolis, the Jets, and Pittsburgh and home dates with New Orleans and San Diego. The season will come to its end, with possible playoff implications, at M&T Stadium in Baltimore. Finishing 3-5 or 2-6 is an unfortunate possibility down the stretch. The key for the 2010 Bengals will be to learn from 2009’s late season swoon, and finish what they start as the season winds down. They will get an opportunity to exact revenge on two teams responsible for their late season meltdown in the Jets and Chargers.
With three prime-time games, including the coveted Thanksgiving Day nightcap, the Bengals cannot cry disrespect from the league. The remainder of their contests have a 1:00 PM kick, which is good for a team that historically plays poorly at 4:15 PM.
The Bengals start and end the season on the road just like last year. The opener, at Gillette Stadium against the Patriots, should prove to be a good barometer for things to come. A solid effort against Belicheck’s minions could be a harbinger of another solid season. Conversely, if the team struggles early, they could be in for a rough year. Just as in every year, the mantra should be to control what they can control, prepare properly, minimize errors, and take it one game at a time. It sounds cliché, but it is the gospel truth.