[Bengals Season Preview] Previewing Weeks 13-17

The Cincinnati Bengals face a brutal December-plus-one finish to the 2010 season which pits them against the defending Super Bowl champions, all three division opponents and 2009's AFC West champs to boot. Combined, these five teams went a collective 49-31 in 2009; subtract the woeful Cleveland Browns and that becomes a lopsided 44-20 -- an average of 11-5.

Ouch. But that's what you get when you win the division. And to win it again in 2010, I have little doubt that the Bengals will, by December, need at least three wins in the final five games.

Week 13- New Orleans Saints @ Cincinnati Bengals
Paul Brown Stadium
Sunday, December 5. 1 p.m. EST

New Orleans Saints 2009 Record: 13-3, won Super Bowl
2009 Road Record: 7-1
2009 Home Record: 6-2
Head to Head Against Bengals: 6-5
Saints coming off: @ Cowboys Thanksgiving afternoon (late game)
Bengals coming off: @ Jets Thanksgiving evening

Key Acquisitions: DE Alex Brown, OLB Clint Ingram, FB Jason McKie, DE Jimmy Wilkerson Key Losses: RB Mike Bell, OT Jammal Brown, QB Mark Brunell, DT Kendrick Clancy, OLB Scott Fujita, DE Charles Grant, DE Bobby McCray, TE Billy Miller, G Jamar Nesbit

New Orleans 2010 Draft Picks: Patrick Robinson, CB, Florida State; Charles Brown, OT, USC; Jimmy Graham, TE, Miami; Al Woods, DT, LSU 158; Matt Tennant, C, Boston College; Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State

TEAM RANKINGS

Offense (2009)

Bengals

Saints

Total 309.1 (24th) 403.8 (1st)
Scoring 19.1  (22nd) 31.9 (1st)
Third Downs 41% (12th) 45% (6th)
Passing 180.6 (26th) 272.2 (4th)
Passing TDs 21 (16th) 34 (t-1st)
Rushing 128.5 (9th) 131.6 (6th)
Rushing TDs 9 (t-22nd) 21 (3rd)
Sacks Allowed 29 (9th) 20 (4th)
20-yard Passes 36 (26th) 58 (8th)
Defense (2009)

Bengals

Saints

Total 301.4  (4th) 357.8 (25th)
Scoring 18.2 (6th) 21.3 (13th)
3rd Downs Allowed 39% (16th) 38% (19th)
Passing 203.1 (6th) 235.6 (26th)
Passing TDs 18 (8th) 15 (5th)
Rushing 98.3 (7th) 122.2 (21st)
Rushing TDs 12 (14th) 19 (28th)
Sacks 34 (16th) 35 (t-13th)
QB Rating 73.6 (7th) 68.6 (3rd)
20-Yard Passes Allowed 41 (9th) 48 (t-19th)
Interceptions 19 (t-9th) 29 (3rd)

One small comfort coming into the home stretch is that the Bengals get a few extra days of rest before facing the Saints thanks to playing Thanksgiving night. However, New Orleans also plays on Turkey Day, so both teams will have the same amount of time to heal up and plan for the game.

If the 2009 Saints looked at all familiar, that would be because the Super Bowl champs looked an awful lot like the 2005 Bengals. Offensively, both teams relied on a potent passing game -- the Saints ranked 4th in yards last year, the Bengals 5th in 2005 -- backed by potent running games. In 2005, the Bengals generated 4.2 yards per rush, good for 9th place in the NFL. In 2009, the Saints averaged 4.5 yards per carry, good for 7th in the league.

On the other side of the ball, both teams featured opportunistic defenses: New Orleans was 26th against the pass last year in terms of yards, but No. 3 in interceptions. Back in '05, Cincinnati was also ranked 26th against the pass, but No. 1 in picks. Both had unremarkable run defenses, ranking 21 (2009 Saints) and 20 (2005 Bengals).

While I wouldn't say the chances of the pattern continuing, with the 2010 Saints coming to resemble the disappointing 8-8 2006 Bengals team, are high, that squad's fate is a cautionary tale for New Orleans fans. Conventional wisdom often attributes the Bengals' decline in 2006 to Carson Palmer getting Kimo'd in the '05 playoff game against Pittsburgh. What conventional wisdom forgets is that the Bengals came out of the gate 3-0 in 2006 -- but that start came at the price of their starting center Rich Braham and star LB/DE David Pollack. At the same time, both tackles, Levi Jones and Willie Anderson, each extended in the previous offseason at the combined price tag of $65 million, were hit with a series of injuries that would result in both of them being cut long before those extensions had run out. Throw in Odell Thurman, who drank his way first off the team and then out of the NFL that year, and you have the real reason why things went south in a hurry in '06.

But barring that kind of bad luck, the Saints should pick up where they left off last season, meaning that Cincinnati had better have its offensive woes fixed by December or they will have little chance against New Orleans' high-octane offense.

Week 14- Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Heinz Field
Sunday, December 12, 1 p.m. EST

Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 Record: 9-7, missed playoffs
2009 Road Record: 3-5
2009 Home Record: 6-2
Head to Head Against Bengals: 32-47
Steelers coming off: @ Ravens Sunday night

Key Acquisitions: S Will Allen, WR Arnaz Battle, ILB Larry Foote, QB Byron Leftwich, CB Bryant McFadden, WR Antwaan Randle El, OT Jonathan Scott Key Losses: S Tyrone Carter, RT Willie Colon, WR Santonio Holmes, DE/DT Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, G Darnell Stepleton, CB Deshea Townsend

Pittsburgh 2010 NFL Draft Picks: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida; Jason Worilds, DE, Virginia Tech; Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Southern Methodist; Thaddeus Gibson, DE, Ohio State; Chris Scott, OT, Tennessee; Crezdon Butler, CB, Clemson; Stevenson Sylvester, LB, Utah; Jonathan Dwyer, RB Georgia Tech; Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan; Doug Worthington, DT, Ohio State

TEAM RANKINGS

Offense (2009)

Bengals

Steelers

Total 309.1 (24th) 371.3 (7th)
Scoring 19.1  (22nd) 23 (12th)
Third Downs 41% (12th) 39% (17th)
Passing 180.6 (26th) 259.2 (9th)
Passing TDs 21 (16th) 28 (t-7th)
Rushing 128.5 (9th) 112.1 (19th)
Rushing TDs 9 (t-22nd) 10 (20th)
Sacks Allowed 29 (9th) 50 (31st)
20-yard Passes 36 (26th) 64 (3rd)
Defense (2009)

Bengals

Steelers

Total 301.4  (4th) 305.3 (5th)
Scoring 18.2 (6th) 20.2 (12th)
3rd Downs Allowed 39% (16th) 42% (5th)
Passing 203.1 (6th) 215.4 (16th)
Passing TDs 18 (8th) 22 (14th)
Rushing 98.3 (7th) 89.9 (3rd)
Rushing TDs 12 (14th) 7 (t-4th)
Sacks 34 (16th) 47 (2nd)
QB Rating 73.6 (7th) 83.4 (15th)
20-Yard Passes Allowed 41 (9th) 46 (t-15th)
Interceptions 19 (t-9th) 12 (25th)

After facing the defending Super Bowl champions, the Bengals head east to Pittsburgh for a rematch with the division-rival Steelers. The two teams have had a rather odd dynamic going in the Lewis era, both struggling to defend their home field against the other. Over the past seven seasons, the Bengals have had eight shots at the Steelers at PBS, and won just one. One the other hand, Cincinnati has taken four of the last seven in Pittsburgh.

I have not been overly impressed with Pittsburgh's "back to the future" offseason. While I understand that the NFL is a passing league, I think that the Steelers have gotten too far away from the kind of power running game and stifling defense that has characterized past Steeler champions. So I'll be watching with interest to see how the team operates while it lacks QB Ben Roethlisberger early in the year. But by this point in the season, Roethlisberger should be back.

In my opinion, the Steelers are overrated going into 2010, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me if they are still in the hunt for a playoff spot at this point. But even if they aren't, Pittsburgh has rarely been an "easy out" for the Bengals. All that said, this is the kind of game the Bengals have to start winning if they are going to be taken seriously as a regular playoff contender.

Week 15- Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals
Paul Brown Stadium
Sunday, December 19, 1 p.m. EST

Cleveland Browns 2009 Record: 5-11, missed playoffs
2009 Road Record: 2-6
2009 Home Record: 3-5
Head to Head Against Bengals: 6-5
Browns coming off: @ Bills

Key Acquisitions: CB Sheldon Brown, QB Jake Delhomme, WR Bobby Engram, ILB Scott Fujita, DE/OLB Chris Gocong, FB Peyton Hillis, OT Tony Pashos, K Shaun Suisham, TE Alex Smith, QB Seneca Wallace, TE Ben Watson Key Losses: QB Derek Anderson, C Hank Fraley, WR Mike Furrey, G Rex Hadnot, DE/OLB Alex Hall, RB Jamal Lewis, S Brodney Pool, QB Brady Quinn, WR Donte' Stallworth, OT Ryan Tucker, DE/DT Corey Williams, DE/OLB Kamerion Wimbley

Cleveland 2010 Draft Picks: Joe Haden, CB, Florida; T.J. Ward, SS, Oregon; Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee; Colt McCoy, QB, Texas; Shawn Lauvao, G, Arizona State; Larry Asante, S, Nebraska; Carlton Mitchell, WR, South Florida; Clifton Geathers, DE/DT, South Carolina

TEAM RANKINGS

Offense (2009)

Bengals

Browns

Total 309.1 (24th) 260.2 (32)
Scoring 19.1  (22nd) 15.3 (29)
Third Downs 41% (12th) 33% (26th)
Passing 180.6 (26th) 129.8 (32nd)
Passing TDs 21 (16th) 11 (31st)
Rushing 128.5 (9th) 130.4 (8th)
Rushing TDs 9 (t-22nd) 10 (t-20th)
Sacks Allowed 29 (9th) 30 (t-10th)
20-yard Passes 36 (26th) 25 (32nd)
Defense (2009)

Bengals

Browns

Total 301.4  (4th) 389.3 (31)
Scoring 18.2 (6th) 23.4 (21st)
3rd Downs Allowed 39% (16th) 39% (18th)
Passing 203.1 (6th) 244.7 (29th)
Passing TDs 18 (8th) 22 (t-14th)
Rushing 98.3 (7th) 117.8 (20)
Rushing TDs 12 (14th) 15 (19th)
Sacks 34 (16th) 40 (t-8th)
QB Rating 73.6 (7th) 90.6 (24)
20-Yard Passes Allowed 41 (9th) 62 (32nd)
Interceptions 19 (t-9th) 10 (29th)

Right now, this looks like the sole "easy game" in the final five, but preseason expectations are often wrong. While I think things in Cleveland are still a mess, the arrival of Mike Holmgren should stabilize the franchise and I believe the Browns will exceed the low expectations most prognosticators have for them at the moment. I don't think they are a threat to make the playoffs, but don't be surprised if they finish around seven or eight wins.

And even if I'm wrong and the Browns are horrible once again, the Bengals can't take this game lightly. Even when they're lousy, Cleveland routinely gives Cincinnati fits. Last season featured a 23-20 nailbiter in Cleveland and an excruciating 16-7 win in Cincinnati. And the Bengals gave the Browns one of their measly four wins in 2008.

Week 15- San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals
Paul Brown Stadium
Sunday, December 26, 8:20 p.m. EST

San Diego Chargers 2009 Record: 13-3, lost divisional championship
2009 Road Record: 7-1
2009 Home Record: 6-2
Head to Head Against Bengals: 10-19
Saints coming off: @ 49ers, Thursday December 16

Key Acquisitions: TE Randy McMichael, WR Josh Reed, CB Donald Strickland, OT William Tra Thomas, CB Nathan Vasher Key Losses: RB Michael Bennett, CB Antonio Cromartie, ILB Tim Dobbins, SS Kevin Ellison, TE Brandon Manunaleuna, WR Kassim Osgood, NT Ian Scott, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, QB Charlie Whitehurst, NT Jamal Williams

San Diego 2010 Draft Picks: Ryan Mathews, RB, Fresno State; Donald Butler, ILB, Washington; Darrell Stuckey, SS, Kansas; Cam Thomas, NT, North Carolina; Jonathan Crompton, QB, Tennessee; Dedrick Epps, TE, Miami

TEAM RANKINGS

Offense (2009)

Bengals

Chargers

Total 309.1 (24th) 360.1 (10th)
Scoring 19.1  (22nd) 28.4 (4th)
Third Downs 41% (12th) 44% (7th)
Passing 180.6 (26th) 271.1 (5th)
Passing TDs 21 (16th) 29 (t-5th)
Rushing 128.5 (9th) 88.9 (31)
Rushing TDs 9 (t-22nd) 17 (11th)
Sacks Allowed 29 (9th) 26 (t-6th)
20-yard Passes 36 (26th) 67 (1)
Defense (2009)

Bengals

Chargers

Total 301.4  (4th) 327 (16th)
Scoring 18.2 (6th) 20.0 (11th)
3rd Downs Allowed 39% (16th) 40% (23rd)
Passing 203.1 (6th) 209.2 (11th)
Passing TDs 18 (8th) 23 (t-18th)
Rushing 98.3 (7th) 144.6 (28th)
Rushing TDs 12 (14th) 10 (t-7th)
Sacks 34 (16th) 35 (t-13th)
QB Rating 73.6 (7th) 84.2 (17th)
20-Yard Passes Allowed 41 (9th) 34 (t-3)
Interceptions 19 (t-9th) 14 (20th)

The Bengals host the Chargers in their final (regular season) prime-time game. San Diego comes in with an edge: three extra days of rest after having played on Thursday night the week before. In 2009, the two teams met in San Diego four days after the tragic death of Chris Henry; the Chargers dealt the Bengals a heartbreaking last-minute defeat, 27-24. With both teams probably playing for playoff spots, and possibly first-round byes, by this point, expect a good game. I like the Bengals' chances here. They showed the could hang with the Chargers last season, they'll be at home and probably in the cold, and I don't think San Diego's defense has gotten better.

Week 15- Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
M&T Bank Stadium
Sunday, January 2011, 1 p.m. EST

Baltimore Ravens 2009 Record: 9-7, wild card, lost divisional championship
2009 Road Record: 3-5
2009 Home Record: 6-2
Head to Head Against Bengals: 13-15
Ravens coming off: @ Browns

Key Acquisitions: WR Anquan Boldin, QB Marc Bulger, FS Ken Hamlin, CB Walt Harris, K Shayne Graham, DE/DT Cory Redding, WR Donte' Stallworth Key Losses: DE/DT Justin Bannan, DE/DT Dwan Edwards, CB Samari Rolle, TE Quinn "Miracle Man" Sypniewski, OT Adam Terry, WR Frank Walker

Baltimore 2010 Draft Picks: Sergio Kindle, DE/OLB, Texas; Terrence Cody, NT, Alabama; Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon; Dennis Pitta, TE, BYU; David Reed, WR, Utah; Arthur Jones, DE/DT, Syracuse; Ramon Harewood, OT, Morehouse

TEAM RANKINGS

Offense (2009)

Bengals

Ravens

Total 309.1 (24th) 351.2 (13th)
Scoring 19.1  (22nd) 24.4 (9th)
Third Downs 41% (12th) 42% (t-11th)
Passing 180.6 (26th) 213.7 (18)
Passing TDs 21 (16th) 21 (t-16)
Rushing 128.5 (9th) 137.5 (5th)
Rushing TDs 9 (t-22nd) 22 (1)
Sacks Allowed 29 (9th) 36 (20)
20-yard Passes 36 (26th) 44 (t-13th)
Defense (2009)

Bengals

Ravens

Total 301.4  (4th) 300.5 (3rd)
Scoring 18.2 (6th) 16.3 (3rd)
3rd Downs Allowed 39% (16th) 37% (11th)
Passing 203.1 (6th) 207.2 (t-8th)
Passing TDs 18 (8th) 17 (7)
Rushing 98.3 (7th) 93.2 (5th)
Rushing TDs 12 (14th) 8 (6th)
Sacks 34 (16th) 32 (t-18)
QB Rating 73.6 (7th) 71.9 (6th)
20-Yard Passes Allowed 41 (9th) 48 (t-19th)
Interceptions 19 (t-9th) 22 (5th)

This game could have huge playoff implications -- or one team could be resting its starters and looking forward to a first-round bye. Sorry to cop out on this one, but there's no way to know if both teams will even field their starters.

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