When you think about homefield advantage in the NFL, you don’t think of Cincinnati. Green Bay, New England, New Orleans, Seattle, Denver – those sorts of places spring to mind first.
But the Bengals have won a franchise-record 11 straight regular-season games at home in Paul Brown Stadium. They haven’t lost a regular-season home game since 2012. There is a caveat to this impressive statistic, though. The Bengals lost a huge playoff game at home at the end of last season, by 17 points to San Diego.
While the Bengals have generally been great in Cincinnati, it’s not necessarily because they have a preponderance of fans in the stands. Cincinnati narrowly avoided a local TV blackout in Kentucky and Ohio for this game, and only did so by barely selling 85 percent of its non-premium seats by the Thursday deadline. Good seats for this one will undoubtedly remain available up through kickoff.
• Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green is almost certainly out for this game due to a toe injury, so the Panthers catch a major break there. But watch out for Mohamed Sanu, the Bengals’ No. 2 receiver. He’s very underrated.
• What the Panthers need at running back looks a lot like what Cincinnati already has. Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill are both young backs on rookie contracts who can really play. They have combined for five of Cincinnati’s 10 TDs this season.
• This is only Carolina’s second visit to Cincinnati ever for a regular-season game. The Bengals have hosted every other team in the NFL more than that.
• My predictions for the Panthers so far this season have been hit and miss, much like the team itself. I missed last week, choosing Chicago to upset Carolina (3-2) in Charlotte but instead watching the Panthers rebound from a 21-7 deficit to win by a touchdown. I’m now 3-2 picking Carolina’s outcomes.
I think this week that Cincinnati at home is too big a hurdle for a Panthers team that has struggled mightily against the AFC North already this season. My prediction: Cincinnati 27, Carolina 20.