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Crystal Ball Observations: New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

When I weigh the differences between the Jets and Bengals, I'm finding more similarities between these teams. Philosophically, both teams produce a strong defense and lethal rushing offense. Defensively the Bengals rank 4th and the Jets are first. Cincinnati's rushing defense ranks seventh and the Jets rank eighth. Cincinnati's passing defense ranks sixth and the Jets are first. Cincinnati's scoring defense ranks sixth and the Jets are first. Cincinnati's offense ranks 24th and the Jets rank 20th. Both teams have a top-ten rushing offense and defensively, hold the opposing quarterback to a rating under 74 points. Sunday's 0-37 loss reduced the similarities because the Jets were in the middle of an elimination game whereas Cincinnati was more concerned with not showing their hand, or hoping to prevent any major injuries.

Still, Saturday's game is drawing some concern from fans simply because of the discrepancy of Sunday's score and the futile nature of Cincinnati's desire to at least produce. A loss is one thing. A 37-point loss? Yea, there are concerns. Let's go through them.

Will injury or health pose problems? No unit on the Bengals defense has been safe lately, greatly affected by injury that's shown a slight break in the team's armor that once ranked second in the league against the run and, at one point this season, had the best scoring defense. Domata Peko missed the final five regular season games and three of the past four games, the Bengals gave up 142 yards (Minnesota), 123 yards (Kansas City) and 257 yards (Jets). In the 11 games before Peko went down, the Bengals rush defense had only allowed two teams to rush for 100 yards or more.

Rey Maualuga fractured his ankle and will miss the rest of the season, as will Pat Sims. Chris Crocker has missed four of the past five games and the one game that he did play against the Vikings, he was ineffective and still clearly hurt. Peko and Crocker are now practicing and say they're ready.

ALICE IN CHAINS TRIBUTE: More men in the box? Your Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and your defense had just allowed 257 yards rushing to the Jets, the most yards allowed in the two-year tenure as the team's defensive coordinator. More disturbing is the four rushing touchdowns allowed and that three different players recorded 60 yards rushing or more. To put it in perspective, the Jets systematically dropped the Bengals rush defense from second in the league (87.7 yards rushing allowed) to seventh by adding over ten yards to the team's average through 15 games.

Defensive starters out against the Jets last week: Chris Crocker, Robert Geathers, Domata Peko, Rey Maualuga.

In the same game, quarterback Mark Sanchez completed eight of 16 passes for 63 yards for a pedestrian 60.2 passer rating. Furthermore, Sanchez has often been criticized for his propensity to throw interceptions.

Likely Cincinnati will look to stop the run, stop the run again, find a cure for ebola and then worry about Sanchez, who has 20 interceptions this year. Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph can match up against the Jets receivers while the Bengals cheat Ndukwe or Crocker to the line of scrimmage. It's necessary because if the Bengals go through the beating they received last week, then the Queen in the Queen City will send bolts of super-charged lightening across the area. And if the Bengals can slow, even stop, the Jets rushing offense, then Cincinnati is more than likely playing the following week.

How will Cincinnati's offense respond? The first meeting between the teams that threw everything into the fire for the final playoff spot and the team seeking a little rest from the wicked offense of the injury gods, the Jets defense (and apparently the elements and "sober" Jets fans) held Cincinnati to 72 yards of total offense; all of which were on the ground. Carson Palmer and J.T. O'Sullivan completed a combined four of 19 passes for 31 yards and an interception. Disastrously mentioned, if we include the three sacks for 31 yards lost, the Cincinnati's passing offense finished the game with zero net yards. But things like that happen when you only convert one of 11 third downs, score zero points during two redzone appearances and gain nine yards in your first six offensive possessions (14 yards if you include a penalty). Oh, then there's two fumbles, three quarterback sacks, dropped passes, and an interception.

As much as I'd like to harp on the bad that came from Cincinnati's offense last Sunday, there are things to consider. Such as the absence of Cedric Benson, who is one of the team's best offensive weapons. Or asking players to, you know, catch the football. Perhaps a vanilla offensive game plan resulted in confusion, or uncertainty with the offensive line, the timing of the receivers and the confidence of the quarterback to know where his guys would be.

Either way, what happened last Sunday did happen. No matter how much we spin Sunday's loss into a positive (five points for anyone that actually can), no matter how hard we try to justify it, we can only speculate that the team didn't perform because of some maddening scientist concocting chemicals for everlasting life. In other words, no amount of speculation will dull the effects of Sunday's loss until the team comes out and fires on all cylinders out of the gate.

You know the world is ending when: Daniel Coats caught more passes than Chad Ochocinco and Andre Caldwell combined.

The return of Cedric Benson will turn the tide, only if there's redzone production. If I were to hand out awards for the end of the season, I'd still be hard pressed to decide the MVP. I believe that Carson Palmer deserves a look because many of our wins this season are engineered come from behind victories, led by sick third down passes and fourth down scrambles. However, the team's best offensive weapon was out against the Jets last week and thus fans have a hard time applying any seriousness to the 0-37 loss during the regular season finale.

When Benson plays and performs, carrying the football 20 times or more, the Bengals are 6-1 -- the lone loss being against the Denver Broncos during week one -- and the three games that Benson carried the football 30 times or more, the Bengals won by ten points or more.

On the other hand, Benson hasn't scored a touchdown since the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens on November 8 -- a stretch of 23 straight quarters during games in which Benson started. In the 22 redzone appearances since, the Bengals have scored seven touchdowns in a total collapse going from one of the league's best red zone offenses through the first half of the season to field goal satisfied campers.

Keys to Saturday are simple. They are the same keys that's applied all season. First key, score more points than the other team. Second key, stop the Jets rushing offense. Third key, gain yards on first and second down to make third down conversions more manageable. This has been the soul of the Bengals this season.