Momentum is obviously important for undefeated teams, especially a gladiator-sport, heavily inundated with superstition. Routines, such as practice times, types of workouts and schedules provide opportunist feedback, if not positive encouragement and outright confidence. We've been doing it this way and we're undefeated. We've been doing it right. What happens when those routines are shattered due to a bye week?
"Routine basically gives us the mental freedom to think about what's actually important. That way we don't have to think about all the mundane aspects of life," says Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" (Random House) via the Chicago Tribune. "Getting to relegate all those things to sort of an automatic thought process, we gain all the mental bandwidth we need to do the really important things in life."
Cincinnati opened the season 3-0 in 2014, before undergoing an outright collapse. Following a devastating 43-17 loss to England during their first game after the bye, Cincinnati traded punches with Carolina ending with a 37-point tie and then offering an embarrassing 27-0 loss to the Colts, securing only eight first downs and 135 yards on offense.
However, each loss had identifiable cues. New England was coming off an emotional (and embarrassing Monday Night) loss to Kansas City; Cincinnati was simply a victim within a tornado they couldn't withstand. The tie against Carolina shouldn't have happened (you know why) and the Bengals didn't have A.J. Green, Rey Maualuga, or Emmanuel Lamur against Indianapolis (with Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert already out for the season).
This was clearly a rough patch, unquantifiable in relation to a bye week. Case in point, there are with expressively positive outcomes in recent memory. In 2013, the Bengals went 4-1 after their Week 12 bye. Following their Week 8 bye in 2012, they went 7-2. More notably, in 2008 Cincinnati opened the season 1-8 entering a Week 10 bye week. After that, they went 3-3-1, which some argue led to Cincinnati's unexpected postseason run in 2009.
"I want to reiterate, I really believe the bye comes at a good time for us," said head coach Marvin Lewis last week. "It's a good opportunity for us to improve. We have a lot of improvement to make. It's a good opportunity to look at ourselves, refocus, and push forward. We have some guys that are a little bumped and bruised. It will be a good chance for them to get healed up, and refresh themselves as well."
Dating back to 2003, when Cincinnati hired Lewis to replace Dick LeBeau as their head coach, the Bengals are an unimpressive 4-7-1 when coming off a bye. Instead of reviewing a statistical trend dating back 12 years, let's close the historical reference to 2011 with the acquisition of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, in an era we could call the "Marvin Lewis Era 2.0." Cincinnati is 2-2 coming off a bye since 2011, including last year's 43-17 debacle in New England during Sunday Night Football. Cincinnati also lost to Denver in 2012 but secured wins in San Diego (2013) and Seattle (2011).
What will happen this weekend is obviously unknown; there's enough reason to believe a more positive outcome. The Bengals' character is stronger, there are fewer injuries and the entire team is firing on all cylinders. Cincinnati emerges from their Week 7 bye, tasked with reinstituting positive habits during Monday's practice, resuming preparation for the Pittsburgh Steelers with another off day on Tuesday.
Then, there's the Steelers. They are the Autobots to our Decepticons, the Batman to our Joker. If Cincinnati were playing any other team, the Bengals would be favored optimistically. Against the Steelers, it's another story.
- The Steelers have beaten the Bengals in three straight meetings.
- The Bengals haven't beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh since Dec. 23, 2012 (and before that, it was Nov. 15, 2009).
- Cincinnati has lost four of their last five in games played at Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh, coming off wins against the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers, dropped to 4-3 on the season after a 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on the arm of third-string quarterback Landry Jones. Starting quarterback Ben Rothelisberger (knee), listed as questionable after being a limited participate during practice last week, was listed as inactive and could return this weekend against the Bengals.
Questions lingering entering week eight:
What's the health status of Vincent Rey and Michael Johnson, who suffered injuries in Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills?
What's the status of linebacker Vontaze Burfict and offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who are reportedly closer to returning and joining the 53-man roster - they were eligible to return during Cincinnati's bye week and could be activated any day now.
Will the bye week disrupt Cincinnati's momentum?
Is Roethisberger coming back this week for an important division game?