After a 2-5 start to the season, Cincinnati's role in this league can go one of four ways. They can beat the Steelers and hope for both Pittsburgh and Baltimore to falter down the stretch for a chance at a second division title in as many years. They can beat the Steelers, hope that either Baltimore or Pittsburgh falters to challenge one of two Wild Card spots. They can play this year's version of "Wreck Your Team" for the remainder of 2010 and simply frustrate teams who are realistically alive for playoff possibilities. Or they can take a swan dive off the Carew Tower and pack it in for the season.
The prospects of Cincinnati's season rebounding into two halves of extreme stories -- one where they struggle to begin, the other where they finish strong -- tends to be a reoccurring theme. Yet, many of us hang onto that ideal, hoping for Carson Palmer to suddenly become the quarterback he was expected to be in his seventh season in which he started an NFL game. Watching the receivers catch the football with confidence, Jordan Shipley cutting underneath while Jermaine Gresham stretches the field and Bernard Scott taking over in the backfield when Cedric Benson needs a spell are but a few checklist items we hope rewards us for our unlimited investments. Foaming at the mouth when the defense finally beats their man head-on, rushing the quarterback and stuffing the running back in the backfield or special teams preventing opponents from having great field position.
Win nine straight, finish the season at 11-5, the Bengals wouldn't just be winners, they'd reached legendary status in Cincinnati, for it means another season sweep of the Steelers, Ravens and finally beating the never-ending list of nemeses like the Indianapolis Colts, the Buffalo Bills and more recently, the New York Jets. It also means that previous experiences of packing it in before the end of the season, ala Dallas Cowboys, didn't saturate this year's squad.
But for such an unlikely thing to happen, culminated by the invasion of dictated homer-nanobots injected into the brain, that must begin tonight. But if anything, satisfaction is guaranteed just with a win tonight against the Pittsburgh Steelers, making their season all the more troubling.