SEATTLE (AP) — Welcome to being an NFL head coach, Zac Taylor.
The newest member of the NFL's under-40 coaching fraternity will make his debut on Sunday as the head man in Cincinnati in perhaps the most challenging circumstances possible.
Taylor and the Bengals will open in Seattle, facing a Seahawks team expected to be a contender in the NFC with the new highest-paid player in the NFL in quarterback Russell Wilson, the highest-paid inside linebacker in the league in All-Pro Bobby Wagner and a brand new shiny toy to unveil after the acquisition of pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
With the challenge ahead, Taylor hasn't taken much time to think about the context of his first game as a head coach.
"You don't allow yourself to think about it, to be quite honest," Taylor said. "There's so many other things on my mind this week. ... Right now, that's too hard to think about."
Taylor is taking the reins after 16 seasons where Marvin Lewis was in charge in Cincinnati. While Lewis was mostly successful with the Bengals, he could never break the stigma of going winless in seven playoff appearances during his tenure.
Seattle would be a prime example of what Taylor would like to see the Bengals become.
Last year was supposed to be a rebuild for the Seahawks as the stars of their championship-contending teams from earlier in the decade cycled out of Seattle and new, younger options took over.
But Pete Carroll's crew proved ahead of the curve and thanks to a recommitment to being a run-first offense, the Seahawks won 10 games and earned a wild-card berth in the NFC.
There were already expectations for Seattle to be in the playoff hunt in the NFC this season, especially after locking up Wagner and Wilson to long-term extensions. Answering their biggest lingering concern heading into the regular season by acquiring Clowney has amplified the hopes of how good Seattle could end up being.
"It's going to be pretty exciting football," Wagner said. "The offense has a lot of weapons. Our line is great, (Russell) is great, our running backs are great, receivers are great, D-line is amazing, and our linebackers are pretty good too. I'm really excited to see all of that come together."
Here's what else to watch as the Bengals and Seahawks open the season.
HOLD THE LINE
Cincinnati's offensive line has been a problem the past few years, and it's in precarious shape heading into the opener. The Bengals drafted rookie left tackle Jonah Williams in the first round, but he's out indefinitely with a severe shoulder injury. Left guard Clint Boling retired before the start of camp because of a blood clot. Left tackle Cordy Glenn was in concussion protocol this week, leaving Andre Smith in line to play against Seattle. The line had penalties and miscommunications during preseason and can't afford that to continue in Seattle.
"When you're playing in noise, you just have to have great communication," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We know it's going to be loud, the first game of the year and Seattle's already a loud place. We can't have the mistakes, we can't be jumping offside, we can't do the stuff that will set you back."
SET THEM LOOSE
Clowney had 18½ sacks the past two seasons combined and is an immediate upgrade for Seattle's defensive line after trading Frank Clark to Kansas City in the offseason. But he's not the only pass rushing defensive end set to make his Seattle debut. Ziggy Ansah only returned to practice a week ago, but is set to play against the Bengals. If fully healthy, the Ansah and Clowney partnership could end up being among the best pass rushing duos in the league.
"It's going to take us a while to get to our best. We are just so new, brand new guys," Carroll said. "We'll see how it goes. Our expectations will be really high as we move forward."
WHAT'S IN STORE?
Taylor played his regulars sparingly during the preseason and went with simple schemes, so the Seahawks aren't quite sure what they'll be getting from Cincinnati's new offensive and defensive systems and coordinators. Taylor will call the offensive plays in addition to his head coaching duties. Running back Giovani Bernard is excited to finally show the Bengals' new look.
"We definitely held back plenty," Bernard said. "We're just really excited for this week. It's an opportunity for us to show everyone what we can do."
Last year the Seahawks had the top rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 160 yards per game and only a little bit of contribution from Wilson.
Expect more of the same from Chris Carson and the rest of Seattle's running backs.
Carson rushed for 1,151 yards in the regular season last year and the Seahawks are expecting much of the same this year. But there is hope that Carson won't be alone in carrying the load. Look for Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise to get additional carries to balance out the work.
The Bengals will be trying to accomplish something that hasn't been done since Carroll arrived in 2010. Over the previous nine seasons, Seattle is 14-0 in home games in September. One stat on Cincinnati's side: Dalton is 2-0 in his career against Seattle.