The Falcons take on an AFC foe they have not played very frequently throughout their history, which is understandable given the fact that they have always been in separate conferences. Atlanta and Cincinnati have squared off 14 times, with the Bengals owning a 9-5 lead.
Unlike the Falcons, the Bengals, who were created in 1968 and joined the NFL during the merger in 1970, put things together rather quickly and were a consistently good team throughout much of the ‘70s, making the playoffs three times and going seven straight seasons without a losing record. The Falcons won the first ever meeting in 1971, before Cincy rattled off five straight wins in a stretch which spanned through the mid ‘80s.
While the ‘80s were a period of doldrums for the Falcons, it was a decade of some prosperity for the Ohio team, which made it to two Super Bowls behind MVP quarterbacks Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason.
Cincinnati entered their own doldrums in the ‘90s, enduring 14 straight seasons without a winning record between 1991-2004, but they still beat the Falcons in both meetings during that decade, making it six wins in seven head to head matchups.
Atlanta finally found a string of success against the Bengals with three straight wins between 2002-2010, including arguably Roddy White’s best career game in 2010, where he went for 11 catches, 201 receiving yards and two touchdowns to help hold off a Cincy comeback attempt. That game was Atlanta’s last victory in the series, as the Bengals won the last two meetings, in 2014 and 2018.
The Falcons and Bengals seemed to have been on different trajectories when they met in 2018. The Falcons were looking to continue a playoff appearance streak following back to back double digit win years in 2016 and 2017 — one of which was parlayed into a Super Bowl appearance — which ended a modest playoff draught in the years prior, while the Bengals had suffered back to back losing seasons after a streak of five consecutive post season appearances.
Cincinnati had gotten off to a good start at 2-1 when they made their way to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, while Atlanta was sitting at 1-2 with many key contributors suffering long term injuries, leaving their defense absolutely decimated.
This game was an absolute first half shootout in every sense of the word. There were nine first half drives between the two teams, and eight ended in scores. All four of Cincinnati’s drives were capped off with a trip to the end zone. Both defenses settled in and kept the scoring limited in the second half, however.
The Falcons handed the end of the game off to their defense after Matt Ryan led a field goal drive to take a five-point lead with 4:15 remaining. Unfortunately for the Birds, Andy Dalton led a methodical 17-play drive, which featured two fourth down conversions and the game-winning touchdown pass to a diving A.J. Green in the corner of the end zone with just 0:12 left on the clock.
It was a heartbreaking defeat for the Birds, who fell to 1-3 and never recovered, finishing the year with a 7-9 record. The Bengals got off to a hot 3-1 start which did not last, as they lost seven of their last games after their bye week to finish the year at 6-10.