Sunday at 9:25pm (UK time) in Dallas, the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals hope to bounce back from disastrous opener and steer clear of an 0-2 start. The Cowboys are also looking to avoid dropping their first two games, through their situation already looks quite dire.
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Cincinnati Bengals team news
In the absence of injury, the 2022 season literally could not have started more disastrously for the Bengals, as Joe Burrow’s first pass attempt of the season was intercepted by Pittsburgh’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and returned for a touchdown. And, for most of the afternoon, so it went from there. Burrow, the NFL’s most accurate passer by completion percentage a year ago, in the face of constant duress, threw three more interceptions on the day and needed 53 attempts to rack up 33 completions and 338 passing yards. All of this frankly says little about Burrow or his fellow ascendant superstar Ja’Marr Chase (who had 10 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown), who did actually lead the Bengals back into the game.
Troublingly, this was, once again, an offensive line issue. The Bengals line, revamped over the offseason after a disaster showing in the playoffs, looked as bad as ever, allowing seven sacks of Burrow and forcing him to scramble six times, one of which ended in a fumble for Cincinnati’s fifth turnover.
Ultimately, the incredible talent of Burrow, Chase, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon and Company, combined with the limited firepower of the Mitchell Trubisky-led Steelers offense (the Steelers had just 13 first downs, averaged less than three and a half yards per rush attempt and under five yards per pass attempt, and converted on just four of 15 third downs) saw the Bengals climb back into the game, and even force overtime – where they were undone by a miscue in the kicking game, and ultimately fell by a field goal.
Dallas Cowboys team news
You will forgive the Cowboys if their hearts do not completely go out to Burrow and the Bengals.
There’s simply no other way to say this: we are one week into the 2022 season, and the Cowboys are looking down the barrel of a positively cataclysmic season. To be fair, with a defense led by Michael Parsons. Trevon Diggs and DeMarcus Lawrence, the ‘Boys actually look safe on one side of the ball. The other side, however?
Well before Dak Prescott broke a bone right above his throwing thumb and was forced to leave the game (for “several weeks”, per team owner Jerry Jones) there were legitimate concerns about the Cowboys’ offense. Outside of CeeDee Lamb, there’s precious little experienced, healthy top-end receiving talent. Every bit as troubling is the offensive line. The foundation of this team for much of the last decade, the line entered the offseason looking as thin as it has a long time, thanks in part to the departure of right tackle La’el Collins in a cost cutting move. Then, during the preseason, a rash of injuries, most notably to franchise left tackle Tyron Smith, took this unit from “talented but thin” to “Zack Martin and a series of potentially serious problems”.
This all would be concerning enough had Prescott (who, it must be said, was horrific even before the injury, completing just 14 of 29 passes, for 143 yards, no TDs and an interception) not been lost for the foreseeable future. Now, for the time being at least, the Cowboys will turn to Cooper Rush, one of the NFL’s most underwhelming backup signal-callers. Until we are shown otherwise, it’s probably safe to assume that, against defensive opposition of any quality, this offense is dead in the water.
Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals (-7.5), with the Dallas Cowboys scoring under 18 points.
There are certainly concerns lingering concerns with the Bengals’ offensive line, though it’s early enough that fans will be hoping that these issues are ones that familiarity, continuity and scheming will iron out.
If the Bengals defense is anywhere close to as effective as it was in Week 1 (against an offense that suddenly somehow boasts less explosiveness than that of the Steelers), even a marginal improvement up front will allow Burrow and Cincy’s arsenal of offensive weapons to look like the juggernaut they potentially are.
In Dallas on Sunday, Bengals don’t even have to look like a juggernaut. If they can simply limit their mistakes (or, at the very least, steer clear of the truly backbreaking ones), even a middling performance against a Cowboys offense that looks completely bereft should be enough for a comfortable (i.e. more than the 7.5-point spread) victory.