Skepticism Remains: Why The "Easy Schedule" Argument Is Flawed

SEATTLE - OCTOBER 30: Wide receiver A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on October 30, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Andrew Perloff of Sports Illustrated is doing his best to dampen the spirits of Bengals fans by saying people shouldn't buy into the Cincinnati Bengals. Not that we're completely heartbroken by it, but there's a part of us that understands where the perspective comes from. Because how much does one really understand this team unless you watch the games and disassociate yourself from the existing (and outdated) talking points that apparently people believe still strengthen arguments? Let's M.C. Hammer this and break it down.

Perloff writes:

They (the Bengals) have really had a great schedule... It’s a function of schedule. You really have to see how they are against their divisional rivals, and in this case, they have really tough divisions. So I feel bad, but no, they’re not for real.

This has been one of the hottest talking points recently by many, trying to find some justification for Cincinnati's 5-2 record this year.

Yet where is the condemnation of Pittsburgh's easy schedule?

Sure they convincingly beat the New England Patriots on Sunday, but Pittsburgh was obliterated by the Ravens to open the season.

They beat the same Seattle Seahawks team the Bengals beat. The Steelers were losing to the Colts heading into the fourth quarter and needed a Troy Polamalu 16-yard fumble return and two Sean Suisham field goals, including a 38-yard field goal as time expired, to beat the Colts by three points. Pittsburgh took a 17-3 lead into half time against the Jacksonville Jaguars, nearly losing the game in the second half and escaping with a four-point win. Cincinnati eventually beat the Colts and Jaguars by double-digits. Shall we emphasize that Houston, albeit a division-leader, beat the Steelers in week four and Pittsburgh's 12-point win over the now 1-6 Arizona Cardinals.

The Bengals 5-2 record are the only one's victims to the argument of having an easy schedule. After destroying Pittsburgh during the regular season opener, Baltimore lost by 13 points to the Tennessee Titans and then blew out the St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans and needed to put together a franchise record comeback to beat the Arizona Cardinals. And that was after losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

And before Pittsburgh's win over the Patriots on Sunday -- to give them a nice even seven games like the Bengals and Ravens -- their opponent's winning percentage dips to .365.

Played opponent's records through week eight
  W L Win %
Cincinnati 20 31 .392
Steelers 24 35 .407
Ravens 23 29 .442

Perloff continues:

Andy Dalton really hasn’t had to do that much as a rookie quarterback.

We're not sure if that's a rip against Andy Dalton or praise for Jay Gruden's ability to adapt the offensive gameplan based on the personnel. True. Andy Dalton isn't being asked to pass block, hold the football during field goal attempts or participate on kickoff teams (that lazy-ass). But let's see. Bengals are tied with Buffalo at 20 and only 1:48 remaining in the game. Andy Dalton completes two of three passes for 32 yards and dives out of bounds on third and three, converting a critical third down that led to Brian Leonard's production that led to Mike Nugent's game-winning 43-yard field goal.

Down by four points against the Jacksonville Jaguars with 3:53 remaining in the game, the Bengals elect to go for it on fourth-and-six. Dalton completes a nine-yard pass to Jermaine Gresham, converting the first down. An eight yard pass two plays later led to Bernard Scott's touchdown run that gave Cincinnati the win.

Perhaps 400-yard passing games during 10-point losses would suggest a more productive quarterback to those searching for a reason, anything, to explain Cincinnati's five wins this year. And really. Wasn't the whole praise for the Steelers early in Ben Roethlisberger's career about defense and the running game?

We can (and should) credit the defense for stopping opposing offenses, special teams for being special but Andy Dalton is the one making those throws during press-packed situations and he's doing it like a cagey veteran that's thriving under pressure.

Two games against Baltimore. Two games against Pittsburgh. Teams that absolutely own rookie quarterbacks.

Truth be told both teams are a combined 0-1 against rookie quarterbacks this year, with Baltimore's 12-7 loss to Blaine Gabbert's Jacksonville Jaguars being the culprit. Suppose we just take that at face value? And if Perloff is speaking on a matter of historical accuracy, then we should be fair and point out that the Bengals have won nine of the previous 13 meetings against the Baltimore Ravens. And during seasons that the Bengals have posted a winning record, they're 3-1 in the regular season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. OK, that might be a stretch. Pittsburgh has historically owned us. I've admitted that for years.

Honestly I'm not going into a blind homerist rage. My point is that there's way too many faults in growing skepticism with Cincinnati's success this year. The schedule has been easy, but it's been easy for everyone in the division. And aren't teams often measured on how well they play against teams they should beat as much as they perform against some of the league's better teams? Maybe it's because Pittsburgh and Baltimore are expected to be successful whereas the Bengals weren't, and thus the application of an argument that should be applied to everyone is only handwrapped to the team that others believe don't belong.

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