The best way to get over a bad season? Look forward to a new season.
The Cincinnati Bengals‘ 2017 opponents were set after a Christmas Eve loss in Houston, here’s an in-depth look at them.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 11-5, 1st place AFC North (Home & Away)
The Steelers ended the regular season on a 7-game winning streak that propelled them to their second division title in three seasons. With the “killer B’s” of Bell, Ben, and Brown all healthy, the Steelers’ offense has made this team one of the hottest in the NFL heading into the postseason.
The Bengals lost both games to Pittsburgh this season, each by one possession. In the two team’s second meeting, Cincinnati opened up a pair of 14-point, first-half leads only to be shutout in the final two quarters and fall, 24-20.
Pittsburgh remains the thorn the Bengals have yet to prick off their rose. To be the best next season, they will have to beat the best. Since the AFC North’s inception, the Bengals have never won the division without beating Pittsburgh at least once.
Baltimore Ravens: 8-8, 2nd AFC North (Home & Away)
Baltimore ended its season in a disappointing loss at Paul Brown Stadium. The 17-point defeat ended what was a roller-coaster season for the Ravens, who have now missed the playoffs three of the last four seasons.
The Ravens started 3-0, but suffered a 4-game losing streak that included a 24-16 loss to Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the last-place New York Jets. Despite the loss to Gang Green, Baltimore was in first place in mid-November, but lost three of their last four to ultimately miss the postseason.
He may have won a Super Bowl, but the “is Joe Flacco elite?” question has long been answered with a definitive — no. However, he set the franchise record with 4,317 yards this season, but he threw his second-highest amount of interceptions (15) and his yards per pass average of 6.42 was the second-lowest of his career.
The Bengals have won six of the last seven against Baltimore.
Cleveland Browns: 1-15, 4th in AFC North (Home and Away)
The Browns avoided the dreaded 0-16 season with a last-second win over San Diego in week 16. Cleveland is going to stick with Hue Jackson as head coach, but their quarterback is still a mystery. Three different signal-callers started under center for Cleveland in 2016, but as far as opening-day of next season is concerned, it should be classified as a mystery.
Cincinnati swept the season series with their in-state rival for a second consecutive year and have outscored the Browns, 152-30, over their current 5-game winning streak in the rivalry.
Houston Texans: 9-7, 1st in AFC South (Home)
Former-Texan Randy Bullock, who was signed by the Bengals in mid-December, misfired from 43 yards out against his old squad in week 16 and handed Houston its fourth division title in six seasons. The Texans are an odd division-winner. They finished 9-7, but benched their 72-million dollar man, Brock Osweiler, in the process after he threw more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (14).
Houston churned out nine wins on the heels of Lamar Miller‘s 1,000-yard season and the number one defense in the NFL. They drew a favorable straw against the Raiders without Derek Carr in the first round of the playoffs. But can they go to New England or Kansas City and win with Tom Savage or Osweiler? Not so sure.
The Bengals finally get Houston at home for the first time since Andy Dalton‘s rookie year. The Texans may have won the division, but like Cleveland, they have a quarterback carousal.
Cincinnati has only defeated the Texans once since 2005, but they will have to be given the upper-hand at home next season.
Tennessee Titans: 9-7, 2nd in AFC South (Away)
Surprisingly, Nissan Stadium is the only AFC venue the Bengals haven’t paid a visit to in the last five seasons. The last time they went to Music City was 2011, pulling off a win against Matt Hasselbeck to move to 6-2. Tennessee had its playoff dreams ripped from them in week 16.
They lost starter Marcus Mariota to a broken leg and lost to the last-place Jaguars. Later that night, Bullock’s misfire cost them a chance to play for the AFC South title in week 17 against Houston, a game they would end up winning.
Indianapolis Colts: 8-8, 3rd in AFC South (Home)
Protecting Andrew Luck and lack of defense cost the Colts once again in 2016. In a sub-par division, they were in the hunt for a home playoff game until late December, but a 33-25 loss to Oakland officially eliminated them.
This will be the first time Cincinnati and Indianapolis meet since 2014, a year that saw the Colts defeat the Bengals twice (once in the playoffs) by a combined 43 points (53-10).
The last time these two teams met at PBS, they combined for 10 touchdowns in a 42-28 Bengals’ victory in 2013.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-13, 4th in AFC South (Away)
Ah, the Jaguars. One of the NFL’s long-suffering franchises went through their sixth consecutive double-digit loss season and dumped head coach Gus Bradley after 14 games.
Despite a boat load of early-round picks to play with, Jacksonville just cannot put the pieces of a winning puzzle together. The Jaguars were picked by many to compete in the historically-weak AFC South, but lost nine straight after a 2-3 start.
Is Blake Bortles still the answer at quarterback? No one really knows. He finished the season with 3,905 yards and 23 touchdowns, but had an impeccable knack of throwing ill-timed pick-sixes. Jacksonville signed running back Chris Ivory to a five-year, $32 million contract in free agency, but he managed just 439 yards.
The Bengals haven’t lost to Jacksonville since 2005, winning the last four meetings.
Green Bay Packers: 10-6, 1st in NFC North (Away)
Aaron Rodgers is a bad man. He helped the Packers run the table to an NFC North crown with 15 passing touchdowns and zero interceptions over a 6-game winning streak to finish the season.
The Bengals will hope this trip to Lambeau Field will come early in the season. Green Bay started 4-6 this season before Rodgers took control and made good on his claim that the Packers would end the year on a winning streak.
Cincinnati actually has beat Rodgers on both occasions. Winning in Wisconsin in ’09 and in a thriller at home in 2013. The last time the Packers beat the Bengals was in 1998, when Neil O’ Donnell was Cincinnati’s starting quarterback.
Detroit Lions: 9-7, 2nd in NFC North (Home)
The Lions were so close to finally hosting a playoff game. After an 8-1 stretch, they were poised to win their first division title since 1993. Instead, Green Bay went surging, and Detroit lost three straight down the stretch and backed its way into the playoffs as the six seed.
Like Rodgers, the Bengals have been successful against Matthew Stafford, winning both meetings.
Minnesota Vikings: 8-8, 3rd in NFC North (Away)
The NFC North was full of streaky teams this season. Minnesota, led by former-Bengals’ defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, started 5-0 and seemed like the NFC’s best club.
Instead, injuries mounted up on the defending division-winners, Sam Bradford started to struggle, and they finished at .500 with the worst rushing offense in the NFL.
Heading into next season, the Vikings hope to revert back to the team that everyone loved for the first five weeks of the season. Teddy Bridgewater is hoping to be healthy, as is All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who played in only three games and averaged less than two yards per carry.
Cincinnati last played the Vikings in 2013, defeating them 42-14 in a game coached by another former-Bengals’ defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier.
Chicago Bears: 3-13, 4th in NFC North (Home)
This will be the reunion of the last time the Bears’ visited the Queen City. Back in 2009, Carson Palmer threw five touchdowns and Cedric Benson torched the team that drafted him in the first round.
The Bears are 14-34 in the last three seasons, but will stick with head coach John Fox for another year. Like most bad teams, Chicago is under quarterback watch. Jay Cutler has proved inadequate, Brian Hoyer played well until his injury, and Matt Barkley threw 14 interceptions in six starts.
Denver Broncos: 9-7, 3rd in AFC West (Away)
Oh how the mighty have fallen. The defending champions failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010 (sound familiar).
Denver seemed like a lock for the postseason after a 4-0 start, but they lost four of six to end the season and finished 9-7. That’d be fine in the AFC South, but with Kansas City and Oakland sporting double-digit victories, it was only good for their first third-place finish since 2006.
With Gary Kubiak stepping down for health reasons, the Broncos’ head coaching job has to be the most attractive. The same defense that led Denver to a Super Bowl was tops in the league against the pass this season, but was abysmal against the run, ranking 28th.
At quarterback, who knows? 7th-rounder Trevor Siemian threw for more yards and touchdowns than Peyton Manning did in route to a Lombardi Trophy, but the Broncos’ offense averaged only 12.5 points per game over a late-season 4-game losing streak that ultimately cost them a playoff spot.
The Broncos’ backfield was a turnstile that saw them finish with the second-worst running attack in the conference.
This will be the third straight season Cincinnati and Denver will meet in the regular season. They are also guaranteed to meet in 2018.
Buffalo Bills: 7-9, 3rd in AFC East (Home)
The Bills have a few question marks heading into 2017. Who will be their head coach and defensive coordinator after firing the Ryan brothers? Also, what will be done with Tyrod Taylor? He was a healthy scratch in the season-finale and all signs point to him leaving the team.
On the ground they were solid with LeSean McCoy running for over 1,200 yards, but their best receiver, Sammy Watkins, just had his second foot surgery in the last six months. One-dimensional teams don’t last very long.
The Bills defeated the Bengals 16-12 in a sloppy game in the Queen City on Nov. 20th. Cincinnati wore all black, representing the team’s 2016 funeral for a contest that saw Mike Nugent miss two extra points and A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard suffer season-ending injuries.