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James Walker: Bengals Next Few Games Will Make or Break

After the first quarter of the season (it's moving way too fast) the Bengals are ranked 18th in this weeks ESPN power rankings (they were 12th last week) with a 2-2 record and they are just getting started into their tough schedule. The next few weeks will either make or break the Bengals 2010 playoff hopes. We'll find out soon whether or not the Bengals are contenders or pretenders.

Cincinnati's next five opponents have a combined record of 12-6. On Sunday, Cincinnati plays the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1), who are coming off a bye. The Bengals will then take a week off before playing the Atlanta Falcons (3-1), Miami Dolphins (2-1), Steelers (3-1) and Indianapolis Colts (2-2).

Considering the potential rough road ahead, the worst thing for the Bengals would be to go into the bye week with a 2-3 record. While I still feel like it's too early to talk about the playoffs (it's never too early) and it's really hard to talk playoffs when coming off a loss to the Browns, it's fairly obvious that the Bengals playoff hopes will flourish or die depending on how they finish the first half of their season.

Depending on how the Bengals make it through this ridiculously tough stretch of games, it will set them up for success or failure heading into the final stretch of games where they play the Bills (okay), Jets (uh), Chargers (hmmm), Saints (come on... who makes these schedules?) and make another round through the AFC North.

Regardless of who the Bengals play, it is clear that the offense needs to pick up and the defense needs to play good all the time, not just sometimes. The offense, which is the middle of an identity crisis in which it desperately needs to find itself, needs to pick a game plan and stick with it. If they want to be a passing team and utilize one of the most talented receiving corps in the NFL then do it. If they want to be a power running team and utilize two really talented running backs, then do it. What they shouldn't do anymore is do both of them 50 percent of the time and only do them 50 percent as good as they can. I'm not going to beat a dead horse anymore than it needs to be beaten (it's been beaten a lot) but I feel that I'm (we're) going to keep saying it until it gets better or I crack my head open beating it against the wall. I'm not the only one.

After four games, Ochocinco is on point with his assessment. There doesn't appear to be much trust and cohesion among the 11 offensive players. At times, quarterback Carson Palmer hasn't looked comfortable with his protection or that the receivers will always be in the right place. I think the Bengals don't trust their running game. Cincinnati must develop an identity and figure how it wants to attack defenses. The Bengals have enough talent to be a running or passing team, but seem confused between the two game to game, half to half, and sometimes even quarter to quarter.