Bengals get a rare season opener at home in the Jungle

First time since 2009

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals will be in a very unfamiliar position Sunday: Opening the season at home.

That hasn’t happened since 2009.

The Bengals open at 1 p.m. Sunday against division rival Baltimore at Paul Brown Stadium.

Andre Smith, Michael Johnson, Pat Sims and Kevin Huber are players on the current roster with the team in ‘09. Smith, Johnson and Sims are back after going elsewhere as free agents. The Bengals lost the opener in the 2009. Carson Palmer was the quarterback. Chad Johnson was the star receiver.

“I think it’s nice for us,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We haven’t had a home game to start the year. I’ll let you know after this one. Obviously, it’s nice to open up at home. You have your fans behind you. You’re in your normal surroundings. We have that home-field advantage.

“It’s a great way to start the season. We haven’t done it before. We’re looking forward to this one.”

The Bengals have fared well in the openers despite being on the road. They’re 4-3 in the openers since 2009 and have won three straight.

Winning on the road is always difficult. It’s even harder when you’re getting a team with fresh slate.

“Regardless of who we’ve played, that game’s been a sellout,” Dalton said. “Fans are into it. I expect us to have that advantage this time.”

There will be a little added hype because this is 50th anniversary of the franchise.

“It’ll be a big day for us,” coach Marvin Lewis said.

“With the 50th season and all that, there’s a lot buzz,” Dalton said. “People are excited that football is back. I expect the city and all the fans will be into it and get loud.”

One could make an argument that being at home is a slight disadvantage for the Bengals. They are a young group. They have nine rookies and 10 second-year players on the roster. With Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict suspended, rookies will get a lot of time on defense.

The coaching staff has worked to prepare the young players for Sunday -- not just the game, but what surrounds it.

“We’ve made the players very aware of what position they’re in,” Lewis said. “They’ve got to communicate well together. We’ve got to put plans in place that allow us to do that They had an opportunity to be out there this preseason. We’ve gotten them in the games in the first quarter because of this -- knowing where we’d be.

“This is opening day, opening weekend. It is a an exciting time. But we’re prepared them for that: This is how it’s going to look. This is how it’s going to unfold. Sound, see, smell. It’s all going to look like this.”

Because of that youth, expectations nationally are low.

“Everybody wants to talk about the youth,” Dalton said. “But the expectations are still the same. I feel like the leadership on this team -- from the guys that are older guys now -- they’ve come up in the system. We feel confident in what we have here.”

Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh has been impressed with what he’s seen of the Bengals.

“They look good,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve always been formidable as a pass-rushing group. They’ve always had one of the best front sevens in pro football year in and year out and they restocked the cupboard there a little bit with those young guys and they look really good. Those are guys we liked in the draft as well and they’re playing really hard and really well for them.”

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