Now hang on before you completely beat me to a bloody pulp questioning what kind of moron I am. I know and understand that it is week 10 of the season with 7 more games to go against some formidable opponents. Anything can happen, from a sudden rash of injuries to complacency. But there is aura in the air for us Bengals fans that can be as contagious as the Swine Flu. My wife, who knows football so well half of the men in her office won't hesitate to talk the game with her, proclaimed that if the Bengals beat the Steelers, "they are going to the Super Bowl!" Yes, that is a direct quote.
Now I don't want to start any unnecessary Super Bowl hype for the Bengals, but having swept the teams considered contenders for the division title, a certain level of expectation may be placed on this accomplishment. My wife and I both know that there are still seven games yet to be played and anything can happen to include a meltdown that might leave them out of the playoffs. Given past history of ineptitude, why should anyone even consider the Bengals a contender when they play in the same conference as the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, who are considered the class of the league? But let's take last season for instance. Perennial NFL laughing stock Arizona Cardinals, a franchise considered by many the worst in Pro Sports history, not only won their division for the first time since forever, showed that even perennial losers can have a streak of good luck and get to the Super Bowl. As a team, there may have been areas of concern; they still made the title game and nearly won it.
Each year, the prognosticators and supposed experts say defense wins championships. And every year this theory is proven as the team playing good defense during the season goes on to play in the Super Bowl. There is no reason not to expect the same from this season's Super Bowl participants. This year's Bengals defense is probably the best that has been fielded since the Marvin Lewis era began. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, carrying a heavy heart with the sudden passing of his wife a few weeks ago, has the defense playing the best we have seen in a number of years as it is currently ranked 10th in total defense. More importantly, the defense is second in scoring defense allowing 16.3 points per game. The Bengals rushing defense is also ranked 2nd giving up 83.4 yards per game, making opposing offenses one dimensional giving the defense the ability pin their ears back and go after the quarterback. This has led to 25 sacks so far this season, placing them 4th overall. Last season, the defense finished the season with a total of 17 sacks placing them near the bottom of the pack. Some may say the defense has rallied around Zim's tragedy; I say that is true and they are responding to just plain good coaching.
A number of nay sayers will point to the offensive struggles at scoring. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens had a five game streak which the offense failed to score a touchdown but went on to win their only Super Bowl appearance. The Bengals currently has one. In each of this seasons win, a different part of the Bengals team contributed with either an interception return for a touchdown or a kickoff return to help propel them to victory. Both of these instances occurred in a game against the defending Super Bowl Champion. Jonathon Joseph's 30 yard INT return help provide a spark to the Bengals by cutting the deficit from 13-3 to 13-9. The kickoff return for touchdown by Bernard Scott in the rematch helped provide the Bengals with the six point difference of the game. Without these touchdowns, an argument can be made that the Bengals would not be 7-2. One can say that the entire team is contributing and doing what it takes to win.
Seeding can also play a factor as to whether a team lands in the Super Bowl. If both the Colts and Bengals continue their winning ways, the Bengals would grab the second seed behind the Colts, securing a bye week at the start of the playoffs and hosting at least one playoff game. Peyton Manning has a reputation of struggling in the playoffs with only one Super Bowl appearance (and victory) in his 9 playoff appearances. His record is less then stellar at 7-8 with an 84.6 passer rating. So the possibility exists that the Colts could get eliminated early possibly setting up the AFC Championship in Cincy. But the other part of this equation is the New England Patriots. They have a reputation of rallying behind Bill Belichick when things get rough and making stunning runs through the playoffs. They have a quarterback in Tom Brady that set a record of 12 straight playoff wins at the start of career and is 14-2 in his playoff career. If they clinch the 3 seed, this could be the team they could face in the first playoff game.
It is obvious that the remaining schedule looks favorable for the Bengals to finish with their best record in franchise history. There are only two teams with winning records remaining on their schedule in the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers, and both are on the road. With the Bengals victory at Pittsburgh last week, they set a team record 5 straight road victories dating back to last season. The games against the Vikes and Bolts may not look good on paper, but the Bengals have done nothing short of surprising those who have doubted them all season.
Marvin Lewis has called this team a group of misfits and outcasts and it seems they are using this as a battle cry. He has them believing in themselves and thinking that they can achieve goals being placed in front of them. Although many people think what the Bengals are doing is a nice story, we believe that it can only get better when they contend for an appearance in the Super Bowl.