HUNTINGTON — Perhaps no team is more ready for the start of a new season than the Cincinnati Bengals.
In the first year for head coach Zac Taylor, the Bengals went 2-14 overall, earning themselves the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
With that pick, they took LSU quarterback Joe Burrow — an Ohio native who is coming to provide a new start for Taylor and the organization.
Following the selection of Burrow, the Bengals released nine-year starter Andy Dalton, signaling the changing of the guard in Cincinnati.
Burrow is the unequivocal starter, which breathes a shot of energy and excitement for the new season.
Fans excited to see Burrow’s beginning in Cincinnati found out exactly when they get to see him on Thursday when the NFL released the schedules for all 32 teams.
For Taylor, he said there was one aspect of the schedule that stood out when he first looked at it.
“The things that you look for — where are we starting and how are we ending,” Taylor said. “You like to do them both at home. That’s really the first thing I looked at.”
Burrow will be featured twice in the first five days of the regular season as Cincinnati opens the 2020 campaign at home against San Diego on Sept. 13 before traveling to rival Cleveland for the Thursday night contest the following week on Sept. 17.
When the Bengals open at home against the Chargers on Sept. 13, it will mark just the second time in a decade that Cincinnati opened at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Thursday night contest in Cleveland is the first of two prime-time games for the Bengals in the 2020 season.
“I know that the players — I think the first thing they look at are what are the prime-time games,” Taylor said. “I think they are fired up to see two divisional games — one on the road and one at home.”
Following the home opener, the Bengals play four of five games on the road, which provides a difficult task for Burrow early in his career.
This season, the AFC North takes on teams from the NFC East, and the two Bengals home games included in that draw are both big names with the New York Giants in Week 12 (Nov. 29) and the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14 (Dec. 13).
Cincinnati also hosts the Tennessee Titans — one of the top AFC contenders — on Nov. 1.
That matchup with Tennessee starts a pivotal stretch for the Bengals.
Cincinnati’s off week follows the contest with Tennessee before the Bengals hit the road for consecutive games: a Nov. 15 matchup in Pittsburgh and a Nov. 22 contest against the Washington Redskins.
While there are plenty of aspects that are favorable about Cincinnati’s schedule — it is the league’s sixth-easiest — the end stretch will be a test.
The last four games of the season feature teams that finished .500 or better last season with two being playoff teams. Cincinnati does get three of those games at home, however.
Two of those contests are divisional home games with a prime-time contest against Pittsburgh on Dec. 21 (Monday night) and the regular-season finale against the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 3.
“If we are going to have the type of season that we say we are going to work towards, you have to win road games and home games, however they shake out.”
On the surface, it appears the Bengals are making all the right moves to turn from the NFL’s doormat into a franchise that could contend in the AFC North.
In the offseason, the Bengals spent nearly $150 million in free agency to aid the defense while adding Burrow and other pieces to the offensive slate, such as Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins in the NFL Draft.
Taylor said it all is building momentum in anticipation of the 2020 season.
“There’s a lot of positive buzz around our team right now, and that’s good for the fans,” Taylor said.