Having a great start to the season is integral to every team, especially the Bengals. Breaking in a new offensive line is challenging enough. However, if the team struggles and loses games early, it will be an even harder task, as confidence wanes and the pressure mounts to win games.
September won’t shape the season entirely, but it’s a good barometer of how the 2017 edition of the Bengals might fare moving forward. Three unique games await Cincinnati in what should be a promising month that challenges and shapes this squad.
Game #1: Ravens vs. Bengals
The Bengals and Ravens have played 42 games during their series history, with each team winning 21 games. The matchup provides the Bengals with an opportunity to build confidence and win a crucial division game.
The Ravens will look different this year. Gone are wide receiver Steve Smith, defensive end Lawrence Guy, and linebacker Zach Orr. The Ravens did gain a versatile player in Danny Woodhead, who the team will use in a variety of ways to maximize touches. And Baltimore redid its secondary with the additions of Marlon Humphrey, Tony Jefferson, and Brandon Carr.
Baltimore is one of those “on the fringe teams” in that they possess the talent and coaching to become playoff-caliber. As of late, though, the team has become stuck in mediocre purgatory going 32-34 in the past four years.
Bottom line: If the offense progresses, they become a playoff-caliber team.
Bengals confidence factor to win: 50/50
Game #2: Texans vs. Bengals (Thursday night game)
The Bengals have two prime time contests this season, with both of them being in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium. When they face the Texans, they’ll face a team desperate to build momentum.
The Texans’ schedule is challenging to say the least. They open the season against an upstart Jaguars squad. Then after traveling to Cincinnati, they face the Patriots, Titans, and Chiefs, all three of whom could be playoff teams when the season ends.
It isn’t unrealistic to see the Texans go 1-4 or 0-5 during this stretch without a hot start. And while competition drives players to perform each week, reality and desperation can prompt them further. The Texans will enter Cincinnati ready for the challenge, and they might have a new quarterback leading them.
Deshaun Watson will be the starter eventually. Depending on how he does during training camp, he could win the job early. He possesses all the athletic tools to keep defensive coordinators up at night eating antacids as if they were Skittles. Still, his lack of experience in NFL game environments could play to the Bengals’ favor if he starts.
Bottom line: The lack of unknown at quarterback makes the Texans a team with more questions than answers right now.
Bengals confidence factor to win: 60/40
Game #3: Bengals vs. Packers
This is one of those games that might worry Bengals fans initially. However, this might be a favorable matchup for Cincinnati for several reasons.
One, the Packers’ offensive line lost two-fifths of its starters. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Make shift offensive lines trying to build cohesion don’t have everything down by Week 3. And facing the Bengals’ defensive line will be a tall order for that unit.
Two, the Packers’ other big question area is the secondary. If the Bengals’ offensive line can provide Andy Dalton with time—and this is a big if—he could pick it apart.
Three, the Packers will be coming off playing Seattle and Atlanta to open the season. That’s a tough slate for any team, let alone one trying to develop unity in two of football’s most important position areas.
Bottom line: The Packers will be playoff bound, but it might take them some time to fine tune things.
Bengals confidence factor to win: 55/45