CINCINNATI -- There's still about three months until the start of the regular season.
Still, it isn't too early to start previewing the Cincinnati Bengals' year by looking at the past and seeing how they previously fared against the teams they will be facing. Whether they last saw their upcoming opponents one year ago or four, and whether they faced them in the regular season or in the playoffs, there could be something to learn from those meetings.
We began with the first team on the Bengals' 2015 schedule, the Oakland Raiders. Next came the San Diego Chargers. Next came the Baltimore Ravens. Next came the Kansas City Chiefs. Next came the Seattle Seahawks. Next came the Buffalo Bills. Then came the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then came the Cleveland Browns. Then came the Houston Texans. Now, we continue with team No. 10, the Arizona Cardinals.
In their most recent outing against the Cardinals, the Bengals staved off a dramatic second-half rally by Arizona to come away with a key Christmas Eve win that ultimately contributed to Andy Dalton leading the team to a playoff berth his rookie season. As wild as Arizona's comeback was, it wasn't the most memorable part of this game:
Date of 2015 meeting: Nov. 22, at Arizona
Cardinals' 2014 record: 11-5
All-time series: Bengals lead 6-4
Last time Bengals faced Cardinals: Cincinnati won, 23-16, on Dec. 24, 2011
How the game was won: If you're having trouble remembering the last time the Bengals and Cardinals squared off, just dig up any highlight reel of the top plays of the 2011 season. Invariably, Jerome Simpson's front flip and perfect landing into the end zone will appear. It was late in the second quarter, nearing the two-minute warning, when the Bengals capped a 58-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Simpson. After catching the ball along the left sideline and tiptoeing toward the pylon, Simpson decided to leap over an approaching linebacker. As his momentum kept going, he front flipped and landed on his feet for the score to give Cincinnati a 17-0 lead.
With a 23-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, it appeared the Bengals would cruise the rest of the way. But at the start of the fourth quarter, the Cardinals started a rally. Quarterback John Skelton completed touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Jeff King, and kicker Jay Feely buried a 29-yard field goal with about three minutes remaining. All 16 of those points were unanswered by the Bengals. It was on the first offensive play following Feely's field goal that it appeared the Cardinals might either force overtime or sneak out with a pre-Christmas miracle. Cedric Benson fumbled deep in Bengals territory, and the Cardinals took over.
But Arizona went four-and-out on its next drive. Two changes of possessions later, the Cardinals' rally came up just short as time expired. Somehow, the Bengals avoided disaster and held on for the win.
This year's key storyline: When the Bengals head out to the desert for this year's midseason meeting with the Cardinals, they will be facing a familiar foe. Carson Palmer, the player who was Marvin Lewis' first draft pick in 2003, will see the Bengals for only the second time in the regular season since he was traded away from Cincinnati during the 2011 season. Dalton had just been named the rookie starter that year, and Palmer was sent to Oakland in a trade. The Raiders later traded him to Arizona. After missing the second half of last season with an ACL tear, Palmer will be back behind center for his 13th season this fall.