For the third time since the 2005 season, the Cincinnati Bengals are in the playoffs. In 2005 and 2009, the Bengals won their division and hosted a playoff game. This time, they made it in as a wildcard team and will have to go on the road. Home-field advantage is such a big deal in the NFL and it's huge in the playoffs. The Houston Texans, who will host the Bengals on Saturday afternoon, are playing the first playoff game in franchise history and Reliant Stadium is sure to be insanely loud.
Despite the fans and despite having to travel to Houston, I think the Bengals actually have a better chance to win their playoff game than they did in '05 against the Steelers and in '09 against the Jets.
2005 was a magical season for Bengals fans. Carson Palmer was, without question, an elite quarterback at that point, Chad Ochocinco was still Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh was awesome, the defense led the league in turnovers and Rudi Johnson couldn't be stopped. For the first time in 15 years, the Bengals went to the playoffs and gave Bengals fans a reason to be happy again.
They won the division and were set to host the Pittsburgh Steelers at home in the wildcard round. Of course we know what happened. Carson Palmer went down with a catastrophic knee injury early and the Bengals ended up losing while the Steelers went on to win the super bowl.
We have to ask ourselves what would have happened if Palmer stayed in. Would they have won? It's possible that they would have, yes. However, consider that the Bengals, at that point, had trouble beating the Steelers are home. They had lost that very year to the Steelers by a score of 27-13 in Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals went into the playoffs losing two games in a row that could have gotten them a first-round bye, the Steelers went into the playoffs on a four-game winning streak. And you can't really overlook the fact that the Steelers went on to beat the Colts and the Broncos on their way to beating the Seahawks in the super bowl -- they won those games for a reason.
Then you have the 2009 season. The Bengals were transformed. They had one of the league's best defenses and Cedric Benson couldn't be stopped. Carson Palmer and the passing game struggled but he made big plays when big plays were needed. Most importantly, the Bengals stepped up against tough opponents. They beat the Steelers at home for the first time since 2001 and they went on to sweep the entire division. They finished with a 10-6 season, but again they went into another home playoff game with little to no momentum. They lost three of their last four games, including a 37-0 slaughter at the hands of the Jets, the team they were to play in the first round. The Jets came to Cincinnati and won by a score of 24-14. This time Palmer wasn't injured. Instead the Jets made the Bengals look bad, both on offense and defense.
Then you have 2011. The Bengals once again were fairly sloppy down the stretch. They lost three of their last five games, including a one-point loss to the Texans at home, but the Texans did the same thing, they have lost their last three games. The Bengals no longer have Carson Palmer. Instead they have rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and rookie wide receiver A.J. Green. They also have a rookie offensive coordinator.
Anyone on the outside would think that they had a better chance to win their two home playoff games, but I don't think that's the case. The Texans are banged up at the worst position. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates will make a start against the Bengals at home and even though he led them to a victory over the Bengals in Week 14, he's not Matt Schaub. You also have to take into account that this is a different Bengals team. This team is filled with young and old leaders and there aren't any locker room problems. This team has what it takes to go on the road and win a game in a tough environment.
I don't want to take anything away from the Texans. I congratulate them on their first playoff berth in franchise history and I'm excited to watch the game on Saturday. However, I really do believe that the Bengals can beat them and have a better chance to beat them on Saturday than they had to win in '05 or '09.
Of course there are those who won't (and don't) agree with me. Our own Josh Kirkendall and I had a debate about this last night. Here's what he had to say.
Josh: I might disagree. I thought they had a great chance against the Steelers. Even when Palmer went down, the Bengals remained in it. If Palmer stays in, it's over before it even starts. That year was pretty magical
Jason: I don't know man.
Josh: That team was awesome. Led the league in turnovers, tremendous passing game with a quarterback largely considered one of the league's elites. Running game even set franchise records. All of that was in play and the second play of the game, Palmer connects with Henry on a 66-yard reception. It was Cincinnati's to win before Palmer's injury.
Jason: I'm not so sure they would have beaten the Steelers in that game though. The Steelers won the Super Bowl for a reason. There's really no way of knowing and the Bengals went into the playoffs with no momentum, losing the last 2 games of the season
Josh: Right. But the Bengals would have beaten the Steelers and what would that say about the Bengals that year?
Jason: I don't know what you mean
Josh: The Bengals would have beaten the Steelers if Palmer isn't injured and if the Steelers "won" the Super Bowl (with a little help from officials), the Bengals would have been that much better. Yes. I'm implying that that team was good enough to be a Super Bowl team. Bengals were leading 17-14 at half time. The Bengals turned it over three times in the second half, along with half-time meltdown in the locker room, which the Steelers took advantage of.
Jason: And how can you be 100 percent certain that they win that game if Palmer didn't get hurt. You can't know that for sure.
Josh: Because the one play that he took part in, completing a 66-yard reception, down the right sidelines to Chris Henry. Because Jon Kitna completed 14 of 20 passes for a quarterback rating of 99.8 in the first half, including a touchdown. And Palmer > Kitna.
Jason: Maybe they would have. All I was saying is that I like their chances in this game better than I did in the other two.
Josh: And I think you're only saying that because you know what happened in those games. You're not applying the actual emotion before those games, rather already pointing out how the game resulted and how the opponents fared afterwards. And to add to the argument, the Bengals beat the Steelers in their most recent meeting before the WC game at Pittsburgh. So suck it, Steelers fan :)
Jason: No. What I remember about that game is that the Bengals couldn't beat the Steelers at home and they got beat there earlier that season and that the Steelers finished the season w/ 4 straight wins and don't ever call me a Steelers fan again.
It's time for you to settle this argument. What do you think?