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Cincy Jungle Mailbag: Questions On A Short Week

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We take a look at some of the fans' burning questions surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals' Thursday Night divisional showdown with the Cleveland Browns.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from the passion that they exude, one of the things I love about the people I interact with on Twitter is their sense of humor. Cynicism, funny hashtags, and other random musings that come my way always break the doldrums of seriousness--after all, it is just a sport that we mostly talk about.

This week's mailbag has a little bit of everything, and we start off with one of those humorous tweets:

In case you're not familiar with the tongue-in-cheek references here, it points to two things. The first, if we're going chronologically, is about the severe ankle injury that wide receiver Andrew Hawkins suffered in the 2013 preseason while still with the Bengals. The second, is the "Ankle Gate" in which Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was caught twisting the ankles of two Carolina Panthers players who were known to have injuries there. Burfict was subsequently fined and was denied an appeal.

To answer the question, yes, I would like to think that Burfict wouldn't do this again to anyone, much less Hawkins. First of all, he was a teammate of Hawkins from 2012-2013, so there's bound to be some sort of respect and/or bond there. Secondly, Burfict's next infraction could bring about a suspension, so missing any more time than he already has because of injuries would hurt them team. Lastly, this game will be nationally televised, so I'm not certain Burfict would want to do anything like that in front of so many watching eyes.

It's all a moot point/joke anyway. It's almost a certainty that Burfict won't suit up on this short week. Neck and concussion issues aside, Burfict had a knee scope done after Week 8 due to an injury sustained against the Ravens. As of Tuesday's practice, Burfict hadn't been working, though timetables on this sort of thing can be all over the place. For instance, Baltimore tight end Owen Daniels had a similar procedure done and returned in about a week.

It's a shame that the Bengals seemingly won't have Burfict at their disposal this week because the Browns are in the top-half of the NFL in both passing and rushing offense. The Bengals defense, especially with Burfict being out of the lineup so often, is currently ranked No. 30 overall, in terms of yards per game. Ouch.

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Frank is one of my favorite followers because he reads CJ ardently and also is a longtime listener of the Inside The Jungle podcast we do every week. This seems to be the question of the week, every time the calendar rolls on, doesn't it? The thing now is that this question becomes even more interesting with Hill's performance against the Jaguars last Sunday. With 154 rushing yards, he had the best day by a Bengals rookie running back since the then-record-breaking day from Corey Dillon in 1997.

Given the injury and practice reports this week, I expect the running back corps to look as it did against Jacksonville--with Giovani Bernard on the sideline. Over the past few mailbags, I've talked about what the game plan should be with Hill and Bernard, so if you've been reading these like I know that you have, my viewpoint is well-known.

Hill proved that he can take the rock with more than 20 carries, be effective and wear down a defense. Yes, the Jaguars aren't the epitome of defensive greatness, but it's still an NFL-comprised unit of professionals. Through seven games, Bernard has carried the ball more than Hill did only once and had a 3.3 yards per carry average in doing so. Hill was near the 6.5 average on Sunday.

It seems to me that Hue Jackson has some of his mindset reversed. Bernard starts, gets most of the carries and Hill has gotten the scraps, Sunday not withstanding. From where I sit, it seems to make more sense to pound the big guy early while sprinkling in some Bernard and let Hill wear down a defense. Then, as he does so, give Bernard plays in the second half to potentially gash with a big run when he's more fresh. That's the key for me: Bernard is most effective when he's fresh and has his legs under him. Continuously running him between the tackles doesn't do that, given his frame.

The two-headed monster probably won't be on display this Thursday. I expect it to be more of a factor going forward and still hope to see both guys on the field at the same time.

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The question of all questions, right? Some don't believe in the "Prime Time Bengals Curse", while others simply can't deny the epic failures when a large national audience has them under the viewing microscope. Marvin Lewis-led Bengals teama sit in the low-20s, in terms of winning percentages in these big games--playoffs included. When he was with the Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid had his team winning 12 of 17 primetime games a few years back, while Drew Brees and Sean Payton now have a 15-game winning streak at home in the biggest of games.

Good teams know how to get it done when the pressure is on.

Some believe there isn't any more pressure on Thursday, Sunday, and/or Monday Night Football than there is when kicking off at 1 PM ET, as the Bengals often do. Some feel that these are pros who care more about the paycheck than wins and losses, so the brighter lights shouldn't and don't matter.

Allow me to take a personal trip down memory lane for a second, if you will. As many of our readers were/are, I was an athlete who played and coached relatively high levels of sport. Often times, our head coaches and/or Athletic Director would schedule cross-town rivalry games a few hours later than other games to get more people in the stands and hype it up. As both a player and a coach, the palpable rise in pressure was obvious. These games meant more, more eyes in the stands, scouts to impress, news outlets dissecting everything, etc. It's a different vibe in the air.

In this atmosphere, there is a propensity to play tight--or as some would say, playing afraid to make a mistake. In many instances, the Bengals' play in the bigger moments seems to emulate that style--play not to lose, right? I'm not comparing my non-professional days as an athlete or coach to the pressure of playing an NFL football game in front of 65,000 people and millions of others in front of the TV, but I think that those who have experienced similar life situations understand what I'm getting at.

Cincinnati rarely plays loose, confident or big in these moments. The defense that carries them all season crumbles in the playoffs. A quarterback on a hot Player-of-the-Month-like streak somehow commits multiple ridiculous turnovers. Things that haven't happened to the team all season long bubble to the surface when the stakes are the highest. Some call it coincidence. Others point to playing a higher-quality opponent. I say that it's those combined with coaching.

This is the second of three scheduled prime time games for the Bengals this season. Undoubtedly, the Bengals' best chance to grab a win in prime time will be this Thursday. They are at home, facing a team they've had relative success against and they aren't playing quarterbacks named Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in this one. This is a different Browns team whose record is very similar to Cincinnati's. It's a big step to the AFC North crown and to NFL legitimacy. One little nugget: AFC North teams are 15-3-1 at home so far this season, so take that how you'd like.

Regardless of what you think of the "Prime Time Curse", the Bengals will need to buck past trends to come out on top in this one.