CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 10: Quarterback Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is hit just as he is about to throw by Chris Crocker #42 of the Cincinnati Bengals causing him to fumble at Paul Brown Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Tampa Bay recovered the fumble and went on to defeat the Bengals 24-21. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Cincinnati's visit this weekend against Atlanta isn't just a critical game, rebounding after a shockingly depressing 2-3 start this season. It could actually be the point in which the Bengals either save their season or lose any hope for an already dim playoff picture.
With a loss against the Falcons, the Bengals fall to 2-4 with the taunting task of winning eight of their final ten games this season just to reach ten wins, a good number for those rivaling for the AFC Wild Card. Even if the Bengals win every game to finish the season at 13-4, which simply isn't believable, the Pittsburgh Steelers only need to win nine of their final 11 games and at the rate both teams are playing, you feel more confident that the Steelers can beat teams like the Panthers, Raiders and Bills whereas the Bengals couldn't even beat the Browns or Buccaneers.
Yet, if Cincinnati wins this weekend, they flatten out at .500. Furthermore, Cincinnati hosts the Miami Dolphins the following week in a game that I believe Cincinnati is more suited to win with the Dolphins having a strong defense and powerful rushing offense -- the type of team that Cincinnati built to beat (see Baltimore). That's a two-game winning streak, one game over .500 and a realistic confidence that they're getting back into the playoff race.
Additionally, Pittsburgh's early season success against some teams that Cincinnati lost to, stands face to face with Miami and New Orleans during a three-game stretch playing on the road. If the ball rolls their way much like it did last year, Cincinnati could witness the Steelers falling to both teams, introducing their 4-1 record with two losses and an identical record with the Bengals when the teams meet on November 8 during Monday Night Football. Yes, yes, this is more hopeful thinking than it is Nostradamus-like foresight, yet, in the NFL, it could happen.
There's a chance that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh face off on November 8, during Monday Night Football, in a battle for the division lead. With Baltimore off this week, facing Miami on November 7, could it be possible that Cincinnati owns the tie-breaker against Pittsburgh and Baltimore and takes the lead in the division? Anything is possible; the likelihood of adding probable seems as far fetched in the distance in which binoculars can't really define the texture of the moon.
Yet, it all starts this weekend against Atlanta in Cincinnati's first must-win game of the year. A win presents a scenario that exists in which Cincinnati returns to the playoff race after an early season struggle with an albeit limited chance of Pittsburgh losing to Miami and New Orleans and Baltimore coming out of the bye week unprepared against a Miami team that just took on the Steelers and the Bengals.
Will it happen? Who knows. But it all starts this weekend against Atlanta.