The Bengals are in Tampa this week to face the Buccaneers in a game where both teams are amazingly in the playoff picture. It looked as though Cincinnati was dead in the water after a Week 10 butt-whipping at the hands of Cleveland to fall to last place in the AFC North.
That put them at 5-3-1 while hitting the road in four of their final six games. With arguably the most difficult 6-game stretch of games ensuing that any NFL team would face, it looked as though the Bengal would be lucky to have a winning record.
As we're often reminded, don't ever count these Bengals out. After two-score wins at New Orleans and Houston, Cincinnati is now in first place in the division and one win away from a winning record. The defense has been the real story, as they've given up just 23 points in the last two games combined and held the Saints and Texans each well under 100 yards rushing.
As for the Bucs, they've struggled mightily this year at 2-9. However, sitting just two games back of the 4-7 Atlanta Falcons for first place in the NFC South. Tampa is very much in the playoff picture, and you can't ever count out a team that has something to play for.
So, what are the experts saying about this one?
The guys at ESPN love Cincinnati, as 13 of 14 picked the Bengals to win this one. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter was the lone wolf in picking the Bucs to win. Does he have some kind of inside scoop as to why Tampa may be poised for the big upset?
Bengals playing three straight on the road: That's always a challenge for any team, but Cincinnati won its first two and now face a 2-9 Tampa Bay team. If the Bengals can somehow win all three, which I expect them to do by beating the Bucs, it would be a heck of an accomplishment for Cincinnati in a league with so much parity.
Bengals (-3.5) over Buccaneers: The Bengals are playing a third straight road game, so I am bucking a tough trend here. But I think their defense has really improved the past two weeks, and that will show up. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will make a handful of big plays to cover this number. Tampa Bay is 0-6 against the spread in the last six at home.
It's a clean sweep at SB Nation, where all seven of their experts plus the OddsShark computer are picking the Bengals to improve to 8-3-1. Speaking of odds, Cincy is a 3.5-point favorite, according to OddsShark.com, and the over/under is set at 44.5 points.
In the NFL Films preview, they note how Andy Dalton has played great during this two-game winning streak, leading his offense to multiple drives of 90+ while throwing four touchdowns and winning vs. Houston for the first time in four tries. He's had the help of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, who've combined for 11 rushing touchdowns this season.
Speaking of, ESPN's Coley Harvey points out how after the Week 7 debacle in Indy, Cincinnati has made it a point to run the ball for four quarters, no matter what the score is.
And here is what the ESPN NFL Live crew had to say about this one:
Since their 12-carry day at Indy, the Bengals have averaged 31.8 rushes per game. Whether down by a few or ahead in a close contest, the Bengals have made more of a concerted effort to keep feeding their backs. And those backs, namely rookie Jeremy Hill, have rewarded them. When Bernard missed three straight games recently, Hill rushed for 361 yards in his place, going for more than 150 yards in two games. Now both backs are healthy again, and there is clearly a renewed focus on running the ball. In Sunday's win at Houston, they rushed 43 times.