[Enter scary Halloween theme while naive teenager creeps through a haunted house looking for that unnatural noise upstairs]
As we stir on the eve of "Frankenstorm" smashing into the East Coast, the Cincinnati Bengals chisel the sleep from their week-long hibernation to prepare for the Denver Broncos, who handed New Orleans their fifth loss of the season in ghoulishly convincing fashion on Sunday Night Football. It's their third win in the past four games, with the lone defeat against the New England Patriots.
[Naive teenager passes the first door on the upper floor and notices something non-human sprint out of the corner of the eye]
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning gears up for Cincinnati, appearing as if he's at the peak of his Hall of Fame career, surpassing 300 yards passing in five straight with at least three touchdowns in the last four. Additionally Denver's offense has converted a top-five third down percentage (remember Pittsburgh) while the defense hovers around the top-ten with a trio of good pass rushers, which may horrify the usually antsy Andy Dalton in the pocket.
[Naive teenager presses on with curiosity of the unknown overriding an instinctual danger-sense]
Compounding the nature of scary this Sunday, Manning is an undefeated 7-0 against the Bengals, the same team that's lost 10 of 12 meetings against the Broncos since 1983, dating back to John Elway's rookie season. Finally the Bengals are 3-5-1 coming out of the Bye Week during the Marvin Lewis era; though oddly they've scored 217 points and allowed 217 points over the course of those nine games.
Yet they continue to play the games in the parity dominated NFL, where the difference between wins and losses can be the tipped pass at the line of scrimmage, a subjective penalty by officials, or a sack just after the quarterback recovered a poor snap. Last year the same core of players battled through trends and tendencies, crushing historical evidence that they should have lost games that they won.
They didn't know any better.
It hasn't been the year that we had hoped nor anticipated. At times they've looked lethargic, uninspired and downright dreadful. We can't possibly articulate how vital last week's Bye was for this team, needing a moment to regroup after losing three straight.
Yet the danger-sense in our instinctual core is the sum of arrows pointing deep into the ground for Cincinnati's Week Nine game against the Broncos, our unnatural curiosity for this team's unknown persona presses us onward. If the Bengals want to recover this season, they'll need to open the creaky door into the creepy room, digging deep for the courage to become the team most of us had expected. Otherwise the rest of this season will be scary.
[Naive teenager finds small pony in a dark room, brings it downstairs to a room full of hungry tigers]