What a week it's been for the teams in the AFC South divsion. First, the NFL world was shocked as word began to emerge that the Jacksonville Jaguars released their starting quarterback, David Garrard on Tuesday. What was particularly shocking was the timing of the release. By all accounts, Garrard was set to start week one for the Jaguars and there was barely any trace that they would make this move. It was widely believed that the Garrard release was based upon his $9 million salary, but the team didn't admit that. The Jaguars quickly went into "media defense mode" and coach Jack Del Rio simply explained that Garrard hadn't shown them enough in the preseason to keep his job with the team.
With his release and the team not currently looking at other options at the position, it leaves Luke McCown as the starter and rookie Blaine Gabbert to pick up the pieces. McCown only threw 19 passes this preseason and hasn't had the most stellar NFL career to this point. Gabbert, by most accounts, looked shaky this preseason and before Garrard's release was number three on their depth chart. Not exactly drawing the praise that fellow rookie and current Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton has received.
Around the same time of the news of Garrard's release came news that undoubtedly crushed the spirits of the NFL front office and fantasy football owners alike: Indianapolis Colts quarterback, Peyton Manning, underwent another neck surgery that will keep him out at least two to three months of the NFL season. There was some smoke to this fire about a month ago when Manning wasn't ready to play in the preseason and the Colts decided to sign the then-retired Kerry Collins to the roster. But, anyone who knows the NFL and Manning just knew that he'd be back for the regular season opener. Wrong. Most people now predict the Colts to have five wins or less in 2011 without Manning at the helm.
So, what does all of this have to do with the Bengals?
The Bengals play both of these squads in 2011 and it was widely-believed that these two games could be losses for the Bengals. The Jaguars are coming off of a 2010 season in which they barely missed the playoffs and their best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, is healthy. Beyond that, the Bengals have to travel to Jacksonville this year. In early October, the weather could play a factor down there, probably being some combination of hot, humid and rainy. With their quarterback situation looking more up in the air than that of the Bengals', this could become a very winnable game for Cincinnati.
As for the Colts, it's been chronicled well: the Bengals have never beaten a Peyton Manning-led team. But, they've beaten a Kerry Collins-led one. Barring something unforseen, it's Collins that the Bengals will be facing up against in week six at Paul Brown Stadium. Not to knock Collins as he's had a pretty good NFL career, but with Manning out of the lineup, this looks like another winnable game that looked grim just a week ago.
The best news regarding the Bengals and these two games? They play them back-to-back. So, if you counted the projected wins and losses for the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals (and we know that you did), you may want to re-examine these two games and their results. We've already talked about the schedule and how the Bengals could surprise people in 2011, and the situation in the AFC South just builds on our theory.