Bengals, Jets look to start playoff path with Week 1 matchup
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) The Cincinnati Bengals have made it to the playoffs five straight years, an impressive stretch of success that should put them among the elite franchises in the AFC.
It's the fact they haven't won a game once they've gotten to the postseason that has some fans hesitant to feel any satisfaction.
Underrated? Perhaps. But the Bengals know there's only one way to change that perception.
''That's one thing we're not worried about,'' quarterback Andy Dalton said. ''For us, especially right now, our focus is the first game of the year. That's all you can worry about is what you're doing right now. We're not worried about any of that other stuff. We're trying to do whatever we can to win this week.''
And that road begins at MetLife Stadium on Sunday against the New York Jets in the season opener.
If there's one trend the Bengals can change immediately, it's that they've never defeated the Jets in New Jersey. They're 0-9 there, but despite that dismal record, coach Marvin Lewis knows how huge a victory would be in Week 1 – no matter against whom or where it comes.
''It makes you 1-0, on the road, which is a good thing,'' said Lewis, 6-7 in openers with the Bengals. ''It kicks off the season in the right way. You focus on this since the schedule comes out. This is the opening game, so there's a certain importance to it. It's an opportunity to get off to a fast start.''
Meanwhile, the Jets haven't been to the playoffs since the 2010 season, the longest postseason drought since owner Woody Johnson took over the team in 2000.
Johnson declined to make a playoffs-or-bust declaration while speaking to the media this week, but the Jets certainly have their sights set on success.
''We don't talk about expectations that way,'' coach Todd Bowles said of his discussions with Johnson and the team. ''We know what the expectations are.''
And, they are?
''To win,'' Bowles said.
Here are some things to know as the Bengals and Jets kick off the season:
DANDY ANDY: Dalton was on his way to a possible Pro Bowl appearance last season when he broke the thumb on his passing hand in December. It shortened what had been a terrific year in which he led the AFC with a 106.3 passer rating.
The Bengals quarterback is back and feeling healthy, and ready to pick up where he left off last year after 25 touchdown passes and a career-low seven interceptions.
''I'm 100 percent,'' Dalton said. ''I'm good. No setback from the thumb.''
FITZ MAGIC: The Jets were uncertain about their quarterback situation until the night before training camp began, when the team and Ryan Fitzpatrick ended a long contract stalemate and agreed on a one-year deal. Both Fitzpatrick and the Jets made it clear they wanted a reunion, and it only made sense after he set a franchise record with 31 touchdown passes and galvanized the locker room after then-starter Geno Smith had his jaw broken by a punch from a teammate.
Brandon Marshall enjoyed a huge year with Fitzpatrick throwing to him, setting franchise marks with 109 catches and 1,502 yards receiving, and also tying the team record with 14 TD grabs.
ABSENT EIFERT: It appears Dalton and the offense will be without tight end Tyler Eifert against the Jets because of an ankle injury suffered during the Pro Bowl. He was hopeful he'd be ready to play, but he had surgery in May and didn't play during the preseason. Eifert, who had 52 catches for 615 yards and 13 TDs last season, will likely be replaced by H-back Ryan Hewitt and tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah.
FORTE FITS: The Jets added a pass-catching presence to their backfield when they signed Matt Forte as a free agent in March. The running back, who played his first eight seasons in Chicago, is two years removed from setting an NFL record at his position with 102 catches.
The 30-year-old Forte is coming off a hamstring injury that limited him for half of training camp, but appears ready to be a full contributor to Chan Gailey's offense.
''Great vision as a runner, really does a good job of setting his blocks up, obviously great hands,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''I just think the overall awareness and the experience that he has playing the game of football, he kind of fits right into that huddle.''
WHO'S BLOCKING?: A spot to watch will be right tackle for the Jets, who are toying with the idea of rotating backups Ben Ijalana and Brent Qvale at the position.
Starter Breno Giacomini is out for at least six weeks with a back injury, so Bowles has been waiting for Ijalana or Qvale to step up to claim the job.
That could certainly have Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who set a franchise mark with 13 1/2 sacks last season, and defensive tackle Geno Atkins licking their chops.
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed.
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