The New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals meet for just the 14th time in their history this afternoon. The Bengals have a 7-6 lead in the series, but the Saints have a 4-3 edge when they play in Cincinnati, OH, site of this afternoon's contest. The Cincinnati franchise began play in the 1968 season in the AFL conference, just one year after the Saints began their existence in the NFL.
The first game between these two took place on November 29, 1970 in Cincinnati. The Saints outgained the home team that day, 362-297 total yards, and were led by wide receiver Danny Abramowicz, who had 8 catches for 165 yards that afternoon. Unfortunately, New Orleans turned the ball over five times and could only manage 2 field goals from Tom Dempsey as they fell to a 26-6 defeat. They wouldn't meet again until September 28, 1975, the first NFL regular season game played in the Louisiana Superdome. Bengals wide receiver Isaac Curtis scored the first regular season touchdown in the new stadium, catching a 52-yd. scoring pass from quarterback Ken Anderson in the first quarter. Anderson completed 17 of 22 passes for 203 yards and 3 touchdowns, including two to Curtis. The Saints offense on the other hand, could only muster 189 total yards as they were shut out 21-0 in their brand new home.
The first time the Saints would score a touchdown against Cincinnati, and also their first victory against them, was on September 24, 1978 in Cincinnati. Saints quarterback Archie Manning overcame 4 sacks to throw for 203 yards, bringing his team back from an eight point 4th quarter deficit for a 20-18 victory. Their first win against the Bengals in the Superdome would be during the 1981 season, when All-Pro rookie running back George Rogers rushed for 113 yards and a score during a 17-7 Saints win. New Orleans would drop a 1984 meeting with the Bengals, but would face them again during a historic 1987 season for the team. The Saints would travel to Cincinnati in the next to last game of the 1987 season already having clinched their first winning season and first playoff berth in franchise history. The Bengals would jump out to a 24-10 halftime lead, but New Orleans would shut them down the rest of the way, forcing four turnovers and sacking Boomer Esiason six times, all from their fearsome Dome Patrol linebacking corps. The Saints offense clawed back, scoring 17 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to break a 24-24 deadlock, capped by two late touchdown runs by Buford Jordan on his only two carries of the day in a 41-24 comeback. The Saints would win five of their six meetings with Cincinnati between 1978-1994, but the Bengals would turn the tables by winning three straight and 4 of 5 against New Orleans between 1996-2014.
Drew Brees is 1-2 against the Bengals as the New Orleans Saints quarterback, and he has won his only game played in Cincinnati. His first game against the Bengals was on November 19, 2006, his first season with New Orleans, in the Superdome. Brees threw for an incredible 510 yards on 52 attempts for the day, with receiver Devery Henderson catching nine of those passes for 169 yards. Unfortunately, the Saints defense was helpless against Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and his best two offensive weapons. Cincinatti running back Rudi Johnson ran for 111 yards, while Palmer's favorite wideout, Chad Johnson, caught six passes for 190 yards and two 4th quarter touchdowns to lead the Bengals to a 31-16 victory.
Brees and his teammates would gain a measure of revenge during the 2010 season in Cincinnati in an entertaining shootout. Saints running Chris Ivory picked up 117 yards rushing and scored twice, wide receiver Robert Meachem had 106 yards receiving and a score, and Brees threw for 313 yards as New Orleans outgained the Bengals 436-311 in total yardage. Still, the Saints needed two late scoring passes from Brees; first a 52-yd. strike to Meachem, then a 3-yd. score to Marques Colston with just 31 seconds left to pull out a 34-30 victory. The last time these two teams met was on November 16, 2014 in New Orleans. Brees found 10 different receivers for 255 yards, but the Saints defense again could not hold Cincinnati at bay. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw for three touchdowns, one to wide receiver A.J. Green, who had 127 yards receiving. Bengals running back Jeremy Hill gashed New Orleans for 152 rushing yards as the Saints dropped a 27-10 decision.
New Orleans comes into this game riding a seven game winning streak and leading the NFC South. The 5-3 Bengals have lost 2 of their last three games and face a must win situation to stay in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC. Cincinnati is a banged up team. Offensive starters A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, and Alex Redmond are out with injury, while the defense will be missing starting defenders Vontaze Burfict, Nick Vigil, and Darqueze Dennard. The Bengals defense is ranked at the bottom of the league in most defensive categories, which may bode well for Brees and a balanced Saints offense that averages almost 35 points per game. The Cincinnati offense may struggle to find running room against the Saints top ranked run defense, but the Bengals can attack opponents down the field in the passing game, something that New Orleans has struggled to stop. Offensively, if the Saints offensive line can control Bengal linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, they look like they could dominate the game. New Orleans coach Sean Payton's teams have had an often unfair stigma of not being able to play well outdoors in a cold weather city. These Saints are a physical group on both sides of the ball though. Their offensive line has dominated games, possibly setting up running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara for big days against what looks to be an overmatched Bengals defense and play action opportunities for receiver Michael Thomas. Defensively, Cam Jordan and the New Orleans pass rush must pressure Dalton into mistakes, easing the pressure on a struggling New Orleans secondary. Some have called this a "trap game" for New Orleans, but expect the Saints, who are among the midseason Super Bowl favorites, to maintain their focus and establish dominance early against an undermanned Cincinnati squad.