As one of our more attentive readers pointed out, only two people discussing the issues doesn't necessarily qualify as a roundtable. But we'd off this: Just because a table is round, doesn't constitute a required minimum number of people taking part in said discussions. So there. I win.
Today Jason Garrison and Josh Kirkendall discuss one of the more urgent issues that's recently surfaced after Cincinnati's unexpected three-game losing streak against the Dolphins, Browns and Steelers. The topic (and the ensuing discussion):
The Cincinnati Bengals will make the 2012 NFL Playoffs.
JASON GARRISON: Unfortunately, they won't. After watching them shoot themselves in the foot against three teams that I truly believed that the Bengals were better than, I don't see them turning things around when they go up against the better teams in the second half of the schedule.
I'm not saying that I'm not hopeful. I'm just being realistic at this point. There is plenty of time and plenty of games remaining, but there would have to be a dramatic turnaround from the last three weeks if they want to make it to the post season. Right now, I'm thinking something along the lines of 7-9 or 8-8 at best.
JOSH KIRKENDALL: The line between good, great and bad is so fine these days. On one hand, watching how they're playing right now, you wouldn't suspect many overtures promoting success. On the other hand, let's face a couple of facts right now. The only AFC team remaining on the schedule with a winning record is the Baltimore Ravens, who are struggling offensively and decimated with injuries on defense.
And look at the games that they've lost. Two of the last three were lost by one possession and Cincinnati was beating Cleveland into the fourth quarter; the Browns needed all of three touchdowns, including an Andy Dalton pick-six, to beat the Bengals. It's coming down to one thing with the Bengals -- mistakes, mental errors. To me the Bengals are extraordinarily young at their core, and yes they've regressed in October, they're by no means out of it.
Look at it this way. There are nine teams in the AFC alone with three wins, including the Bengals. One of those teams will win the second wild card. Give Cincinnati a run and they're very much in it.
JASON: Obviously there's no doubt that "they're in it." Hopefully they come out swinging after their bye week and take care of business.
Speaking of the bye week, do you think the Bengals will make any dramatic roster changes during the Bye Week so it gives certain players extra time before they debut at a new position or role when they take on the Broncos?
JOSH: Dramatic? No. It's possible that they could make a pre-deadline trade that acquires a role player for a late round draft pick, but they won't have their No. 7 this year because of the Taylor Mays trade. But I don't expect a trade. At best the Bengals sign a free agent and as you know, heading into Week Eight, there's nothing really there -- otherwise they wouldn't be free agents. Possible practice squad promotion? Not seeing that, but depends on Brian Leonard's ribs if Daniel Herron gets the call -- which is of itself, doubtful.
JASON: Not that I'm expecting a position change, but Vontaze Burfict has become a fan favorite in Cincinnati and for good reason. He played well against the Steelers and that wasn't his first good game that he's had since being named as a starter. Rey Maualuga on the other hand has struggled on and off all season. Do you think Burfict slides to the middle, where most believe he belongs, this year, or do you think that will happen after the season, if at all?
JOSH: If it happens, it's because Maualuga isn't re-signed after playing out his rookie contract, which expires this year. Burfict is the natural progression and he's clearly playing better as the more aggressive and instinctual linebacker of the bunch. He's making his share of rookie mistakes -- bites on play-action and misdirection -- but most players do anyway.
And I honestly think that most of Maualuga's problem is mental, not physical and certainly not a limitation of talent. He's showing hesitancy hitting the point of attack, often waits for blockers and runners to come to him. Have to wonder if in his mind, a serious injury during a contract year is making him more protective of his body. Get back to that aggressive and nasty Samoan banging his body into rushing lanes and he could claim a partial crown as the best defensive player. I just don't think that'll happen, at least his year.
JASON: And if it doesn't happen this year, I would doubt that, with Burfict in the mix, that Maualuga is in Cincinnati next year. I like him and it's a shame. Yet it wouldn't surprise me at all. I personally think the Bengals look for a new outside linebacker in the draft in 2013 as Burfict is named the starter.
But outside linebacker is just one of the potential huge holes next year. Right tackle could be a big one as the Bengals may be hesitant to pay Andre Smith left tackle money to play right tackle, even though he has improved dramatically, then there are holes all over the secondary, especially at strong safety...... effing again.
The Bengals could benefit from some extra picks in the draft or at least a large amount of cash to spend in free agency. Unfortunately, that cash will likely need to stay in house since they'll need to sign guys like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, among others, to extensions. No matter what they do, it's unlikely that they make everybody happy this offseason.
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, though.
JOSH: I can understand hesitancy signing re-signing Smith but if they fail to reel in the team's starting right tackle long-term, it will be both a shame and entirely unacceptable. He's arguably become the best offensive lineman in Cincinnati. Plus you can't plug holes if you keep losing your best players; which springs more holes and a rotational epidemic that's incurable.
As for outside linebacker, it might require a wait-and-see approach. Though he might not return as he played in 2011, Thomas Howard's value on the open market as a free agent will be down with an ACL. If he comes back at full strength, not only can you re-sign him at a reasonable cost, he resolves the need to plug another offseason gap. There's only so many draft picks one team can use. Plus there's a feeling that the whole Emmanuel Lamur story has yet to be told.