If you were making a list of pretenders and contenders in relation to postseason positioning, where would you put the Bengals?
Let me rephrase that. Quietly placing your battle-hardened Bengals jersey on the table (or in the washer, for the love of god), momentarily dissolving the blinders that characterizes your hearty obsession, would you classify the Cincinnati Bengals as contenders or pretenders? Probably ask yourself this time last week and you're enthusiastically pounding your desk with Hulk-rage shouting contenders. Now?
Forgive me. It's not that I'm hesitant nor losing the endless and ambiguous faith. Rather it's being posed as a legitimate question. Following a 31-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals went on a three-game winning streak beating teams they're supposed to beat. Miami, we'll call an aberration for now, only because we're not sure if they're going to be one of the annual NFL surprises this year.
While contemplating such questions, we're forced to believe that this weekend against the Cleveland Browns could give us a significant answer. Granted the Cleveland Browns are a team that one could also label with an up-arrow, showing increasingly solid play from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and especially running back Trent Richardson. But they are 0-5 this season and dangerous enough for many "experts" and analysts to throw the "upset" tag on this game -- which is more of indicative on how people view the Bengals with that undeniable uncertainty.
Right now my notepad writes "contenders", but they're on the verge of having too many questions to deal with. How long can Andy Dalton and A.J. Green last without a reasonable rushing offense to take some pressure off the sophomores? Will Mike Zimmer's improving defense continue to build after allowing an average 34.0 points per game and 416.7 yards? How much of an impact will returning players have now that they're healthier? Questions that will begin their answered phase after playing the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.