With the Bengals’ 2021 schedule release, what are the biggest storylines to follow?
The Bengals’ 2021 schedule is set after Wednesday night.
There are plenty of stories circling around Cincinnati right now, from Joe Burrow’s knee to the bromance between him and Ja’Marr Chase.
With a new schedule, there are new story lines. For instance, 2021 will be the first 17-game regular season in NFL history. What will the effect of the 17th game be on the Bengals?
2021 will be a key season for Burrow, for Zac Taylor, and for the Bengals. Here are the top 10 storylines from the brand new 2021 schedule:
Zimmer’s return to Cincinnati, Burrow and Chase against Jefferson, Bengals open at home in Week 1
The action gets started very quickly with a home opener against the Vikings.
First of all, This will be Mike Zimmer’s first game in Cincinnati as a head coach. Zimmer was the Bengals’ defensive coordinator from 2008-2013, and in four of those six seasons, the Bengals had a top-ten defense four times. This will be his first game as the head coach of the Vikings in Paul Brown Stadium. He has only coached against the Bengals once, a 24-7 win in 2017.
Another great storyline from this game is the 2019 LSU offense is getting back together. Joe Burrow led that team under center, and his two favorite receivers were Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. For LSU, Chase had 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, while Jefferson had 11 receptions, 15,40 yards, and 18 touchdowns.
It’s no wonder how LSU scored 40 or more points in 12 of their 15 games in 2019. Jefferson had a great rookie season in 2020 for the Vikings, with 88 receptions, 1,400 yards, and 7 touchdowns.
The third story line is that the Bengals are hosting the rare home opener. The last time they opened at home was that 2017 season against the Ravens. Before that, their last home opener was in 2009 against the Broncos.
One final story line is that this game will be both Trae Waynes’ and Mackensie Alexander’s revenge games. Waynes was a first round pick to the Vikings, but due to an injury in 2020 this will be his first NFL game in a color besides purple. Alexander spent his first four years in the league with the Vikings, but after a one-year stop in Cincinnati in 2020, he’s back in Minnesota.
Rematch of the 2019 National Championship game on TNF in Week 14
When the Jaguars come to Cincinnati, Trevor Lawrence will get another shot at Burrow.
When Clemson and LSU faced off for the 2019 National Championship Game, the LSU offense blasted off. Burrow passed for 463 yards and five touchdowns, while Chase caught 9 passes for 221 yards and two scores.
Lawrence and Travis Etienne were on the losing end of that devastation, but wound up going to Jacksonville in the first round of the 2021 draft. They’ll get the chance to level the score, but this time, Burrow gets Tee Higgins and Jackson Carman. Both played for Clemson in that title game, but now play for the Bengals.
While we won’t have another Tigers vs. Tigers matchup, Bengals and Jaguars are close enough.
The fact that this game will be in primetime adds another layer of excitement.
Burrow vs. Herbert in Week 13
The Bengals opened at Los Angeles against the Chargers last season, and Burrow was one blown hamstring away from his first win as a Bengal. However, Burrow never got to play against Justin Herbert, the Chargers 2020 first round pick.
Herbert didn’t get to start until the second game of the season, due to, shall we say, unusual circumstances. The Bengals got a chance to coach Herbert at the Senior Bowl, but went with Burrow for the first overall pick instead.
Once Herbert started, he threw for 4,336 yards, 31 touchdowns, 31 touchdowns, and only 10 interceptions with a 66.6 completion percentage. Those numbers are unreal for a rookie.
For many, this game will be the 2020 Rookie of the Year vs. the player who would have won that award if his knee wasn’t shredded to smithereens.
Andy Dalton’s revenge in Week 2
We don’t quite know who the starting quarterback of the Bears will be when they play the Bengals, but if it’s Andy Dalton, that will be must-watch TV for Bengals’ fans.
Dalton’s only career game against the Bengals was a 30-7 Cowboys victory. Though he only passed for 185 yards that game, he still threw for two touchdowns and completed nearly 70 percent of his passes.
If Justin Fields doesn’t win the starting job by the time the Bengals come to town, then Dalton will get his second shot at revenge against the Bengals.
The odds of Dalton being the starter are good, since this game will be in only Week 2.
The Sewell vs. Chase game in Week 6
Many fans were split (and still are, in some cases) on whether the Bengals should have taken OT Penei Sewell at the five spot in the draft. The Bengals went with Chase and Sewell fell to the Lions.
It will take a few years before we can know if that was really the right choice, but this game might factor into the discussion.
If the Bengals lose, then those who said the Bengals “should be disbanded” will declare themselves victorious in this debate. But if the Bengals win, then the national media outlets will still try to twist it against the Bengals.
Somewhat minor revenge against the 49ers in Week 14
The 49ers will be the Bengals 17th opponent this year, in the first 17-game regular season in NFL history.
Though neither team made the playoffs last year, any Bengals/49ers game still feels like a revenge game for a 1980’s Super Bowl, doesn’t it?
Bengals get two weeks to prepare for the Steelers in Week 12
The Bengals get their bye week in Week 11, which gives them an extra week to prepare for the Steelers.
The Steelers make the trip to Los Angeles to play the Chargers in Week 11, then will travel across the country to play the Bengals. The first leg of this rivalry will be in Pittsburgh in Week 3, but the Steelers will get a well rested Bengals team for the second game.
Mahomes vs. the Bengals in Week 17
For the first time, the Bengals will not end the season after the Week 17 game. Instead, the Bengals will play their second-to-last home game against the Chiefs.
The Bengals will get to play the two-time defending AFC Champions and the 2020 MVP, Patrick Mahomes. If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play against the Bengals in Week 5, then Mahomes will be the clear favorite to be the best quarterback to play against the Bengals in 2020 (or at least, in the regular season).
Ending the season against the Browns in Week 18
What strange times are these that the Bengals and Browns could conceivably be playing for a playoff spot in the last game of the season.
For optimistic Bengals fans, Burrow has a real chance to take the Bengals to the promised land. Given the expanded playoff format, it’s not unrealistic to see the Bengals play for the postseason.
The Browns will be looking to go back to the playoffs, so this Week 18 matchup could be a must-win for both teams.
Will the Bengals see Aaron Rodgers in Week 5 or Week 15?
Rumors are looming in Green Bay. The Bengals play the Packers in Week 5, so they could be playing against either Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love. The question is, will Rodgers play for the Packers in that game, or will he be hosting Jeopardy by then?
For what it’s worth, the Bengals play the Broncos in Week 15. Denver is the team that has shown the most interest in acquiring Rodgers, so there is a scenario where the Bengals play against Rodgers at Mile High this year.