OK, l know we are all siked about the 6-2 start and winning 5 in a row. Everyone and their momma wrote the Bengals off before the season started, even I had my doubts! But the "Red Rifle", AJG18, and our tenacious defense has surprised everyone and proved that this team is not to be taken lightly.
So instead of going the usual route and talking about how surprisingly good this team is, I will play devil's advocate here and bring us all back to reality. OK, the biggest number the football pundits have used to downplay our stellar record is our weak strength of schedule. Yeah! What don't we already know??? Our first 8 opponents have a combined record of 26-38...not exactly cream of the crop but since when were "the Bungles" supposed to be competitive with any of these teams, right? I think we've held our own and shown a lot of grit and determination in earning some of those wins. BUT the 2nd half of the season looms with seriously tough opponents that we have no shot at winning? Or do we:
Week 10 vs. PIT: they are coming off a tough late-game loss that has probably taken some of their energy away from them. This is a crucial home game, but we all know the Steelers will come back strong to try to bounce back from that loss to the Ravens. We have momentum 5 games strong, so this one will be another close victory. I think Cincy will have their eyes opened up after a strong of weak opponents and we'll lose this one in a close battle.
Week 11 at BAL: back-to-back really tough games. The Ravens will romp on Seattle the week before, so they will be on a high coming into this game. We may be able to stop Ray Rice on the ground, but if they get him going on the screens and if their WRs do the kind of damage they did against the Steelers, we got no chance. This one might get ugly as Dalton will get alot of pressure from the Ravens' D-line. This will be a good test of how he is able to keep his composure, but I see them beating us by 10+ pts.
Week 12 vs CLE: A bounce back game for us. The whole Hillis fiasco has left a big whole in their offensive scheme and I am not sold on Colt McCoy being a primetime QB yet. The Bengals team they faced in Week1 is a different team they will face in Week 12. Our confidence and tremendous defense will p0wn the Browns. Season sweep vs the "other" Ohio team!
Week 13 at PIT: Another tough game, but Marvin's team has 1 game under their belt vs the Steelers and may have a better gameplan to defeat them. But hey, this is Hines Field, and barring any significant injuries to the Steelers, this is still up uphill battle the young Bengals face and its usually by the 12th or 13th game that rookies(i.e. Dalton, Green) hit the proverbial wall, so their production might be on the decline at this point. I see PIT winning by a touchdown or less.
Week 14 vs HOU: Expected to be tired and weary after a difficult road game in PIT, they come home to the up-and-coming AFC power, Texans. I figure by this time, they will face a healthy Andre Johnson, along with a rejuvenated Arian Foster and Ben Tate running combo which has been proven to be deadly. We have had trouble with Kubiak's Texans in the past and they are only getting better with a solid D(which includes former Bengal CB Jonathan Joseph). A somewhat tired Bengals D will hold their own thru most of the game, but Texans prevail by at least a touchdown.
Week 15 at STL: The Rams aren't a very good team right now other than Stephen Jackson, but the battle-tested Bengals will still have their work cut out for them on the road. I see this game a lot like their game vs the Seahawks where its close throughout but the Bengals will eventually pull away in the 4th, stymieing the Rams offense and controlling the run game with Benson getting 120+.
Week 16 vs ARI: They come home to face an Arizona team coming off 3 straight home games and most likely a victory over the Browns in the previous week, so they will have supreme confidence. However, whether Kolb or Skelton is at the helm, the Bengals D will dominate coupled with another solid running game where we score at least 2 or 3 rushing TDs. I think the Cards will keep it close and this might be a 3 or 4 point game, but Cincy gets a crucial home win to stay in the playoff hunt.
Week 17 vs BAL: OK, this is do or die for the Bengals. I see at least 2 or 3 other AFC teams also 9-6 and in the hunt for a wildcard berth. For Cincy, this will be a playoff type atmosphere and they will come out swinging. The bad thing is, the Ravens will still be jockeying for the top AFC spot, home field advantage, and a 1st round bye, so they still have a lot to play for. Another heavy dose of Ray Rice and their punishing D will wear us down in the 2nd half. I don't see us pulling off the upset unless the Ravens come into the game heavy depleted or their playoff position is already locked where they can rest their starters. Valiant effort not only for the game, but for the entire season.
FINAL SEASON RECORD: 9-7
Again, I am looking at this from a realistic point of view. Of course I want them to kick ass and make the playoffs, but I'm trying to be objective here and play the Debbie Downer role, so please don't crucify me! We had a very friendly 1st half of the schedule which has opened the eyes of many NFL fans and critics that this team has the building blocks of being a perennial playoff team for years to come. And lets face it, most of us didn't even think being above .500 was a realistic goal before the year started. 9-7 is a solid mark that they should all be proud of given the fact we have a starting rookie QB, new offensive coordinator, revamped and young defensive core(esp our LBs), and had a shortened off-season to prepare. All the cards were stacked against them but this team is HUNGRY. I know they share the same kind of drive and determination to break the Bungles stigma of being a losing team and a crappy franchise. Moving past the whole Palmer debacle and the T.Ocho fiasco was a huge distraction that this young team has done well to show and prove themselves.
Being 9-7 and barely missing the playoffs is a tough pill to swallow but that "wall" is there and hitting it is imminent. It doesn't help that most of their 2nd half opponents are big dogs who feast on weakness and vulnerability, but that's the challenge they face. Heads high and know that we have a whole lot to look forward to this decade! And hey, if they pull off some huge upsets and make the playoffs this year, I will be completely ecstatic! WHO DEY!
What's your take on the rest of the season? Please feel free to throw your 2 cents in.