The schedule makers looked kindly upon the Cincinnati Bengals this year. Not at first glance of course. Challenging NFC East, the standard four against the Ravens and Steelers, along with possible west coast games where Cincinnati typically struggles. Yet the schedule hasn't been the the scary Blockbuster that it was made out to be earlier this year.
Throughout the span of an entire month the Bengals didn't leave the city, playing in Cleveland on October 14 and not having to play their next away game until November 18, against the Kansas City Chiefs -- a span of four weeks, three home games and a bye week.
Additionally the schedule was kind enough to give Cincinnati the Browns (twice), Dolphins, Jaguars and Redskins (before they got hot) after the Monday Night Football opener against Baltimore, allowing the Bengals an opportunity for a quick start, rocking record and some hardcore mainstream media attention (not that we care).
Obviously you know how that turned out. But in the world of "should", if Cincinnati had ditched their familiar bone-headed mistakes, Cincinnati should have been 5-1 entering Sunday Night Football against the Steelers in Week Seven. They didn't and what happened, happened.
Then Cincinnati was given a midseason reprieve against the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers, prior to what was expected to become a gauntlet of playoff teams. Instead the Eagles are out, the Cowboys are hanging on by a thread (solidified by more bone-headed mistakes by the Bengals) and the Steelers and Ravens are dealing with their own struggles on the field and internally.
Every step of the way this season, it appears something has happened to the other team, giving Cincinnati the proverbial advantage on paper. Taking advantage of said advantage has been a disadvantage for an otherwise disadvantaged franchise. Yet. There its been. For the taking. All season. Frustrating those fingertips grazing upon awesome.
Cincinnati heads to Philadelphia this Thursday (actually they leave Wednesday afternoon), playing their first Thursday Night Football game since a humiliating defeat to the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night in 2010.
The Eagles, though having just broke an eight-game losing streak to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are currently 4-9 with significant internal distraction concerning Andy Reid's future that Cincinnati are 3-4 point favorites. And considering that the Bengals could actually lose to the Eagles without much blood loss for the playoffs heading into Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the schedule offers the Bengals something.
After the game concludes Thursday night with hopefully a postgame interview with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green on the NFL Network set, the Bengals will have 10 days to allow injuries, nicks and bruises to heal, while taking advantage of the added time game-planning against the Pittsburgh Steelers in what will be the Game of the Century of the Week.
Yet how much does a Thursday Night Football game benefit a team the following week?
Sure the injuries will heal, teams feel healthier with what could be described as a mini-bye week. Yet teams that played on Thursday Night Football this season are a collective 9-15 the following week; including four games in which both teams lost their next games. A caveat at least is that teams that won Thursday Night Football games are 5-7 the following week.