What can I say? When you spend your whole life following the Cincinnati Bengals, one of two things happens: You become completely negative or you become unrealistically optimistic (some may say delusional). While Bengals franchise history does not support the idea that they could still make a run at the playoffs, the coach in me sees the path to it happening.
Andy Dalton’s play has improved significantly since Bill Lazor took over the play-calling duties in Cincinnati. Dalton injured his ankle in the Buffalo Bills game and, although he said it was fine, he still seemed bothered by it against the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks later. A rough outing versus the Steelers aside, AJ Green has played like the elite receiver he is in recent weeks. Tyler Eifert is out for the season, but John Ross seems to be progressing through his injury and could provide another threat for this offense when he returns.
The Bengals could take some heat off Dalton by developing a competent running game, but rookie Joe Mixon established the run very well in the first half against the Steelers. If the Bengals can figure out how to scheme to get the most out of Mixon, their offense will be difficult for any defense to stop. The biggest issue remains the offensive line: The group has improved, but they continue to be a liability.
Defensively, the Bengals have been very good. The secondary is strong and deep. The linebacker corps is more athletic than ever. The biggest change, however, is in the pass rush. Adding rookie Carl Lawson into the mix with Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins has made the Bengals pass rush a force to be reckoned with. Although they struggled this week defensively, they have the personnel to bounce back.
Standings and Schedule
The Bengals currently sit 2½ games behind the Steelers in the AFC North standings. If Pittsburgh can continue to play the way they did in the last two weeks, all hope may be lost. If, however, they regress and start to perform similarly to the beginning of the season, the Bengals still have a chance.
Looking forward, the Bengals should not have a problem beating the Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears (all at home); they will struggle to win road games against stingy defenses at Denver and Jacksonville. Assuming that to have any chance of winning the division, the Bengals will need ten wins, and that means they will have to win games at Tennessee, Baltimore and Minnesota and at home against the Steelers and Detroit Lions. There are some pretty tough games in there, but they are all games that the Bengals could win if they perform at their potential. Let’s not forget that this team nearly beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in overtime at Green Bay.
While there is ample reason to fear that the season is lost, there is a glimmer of hope that maybe the Bengals can put things together and make a run at the playoffs. Will they do it? Probably not, but it has happened for other teams in the past, so why not this one?
Download The Grueling Truth app in the iTunes store!