The 2015 Cincinnati Bengals are a good team with a deep roster. Even the most cynical critics of the team and the most casual of NFL fans can see this as an evident truth.
However, as convenient as it may be after their first loss of the season, a very ugly one, questions begin to surface. Are the Bengals still a team that shrivels in the national spotlight, even though they won a primetime game just a week and a half earlier? Are they actually equipped to finally make a postseason run, or do their eight wins from their first eight games have an element of fool's gold?
First Half of Schedule:
Through the first half of the season, Cincinnati had beaten quite a few teams with championship resumes and it gave credibility to a team who has constantly struggled to gain it. Three of their first eight wins came against perennial playoff attendees and Super Bowl winners in Seattle, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The latter two wins were on the road, giving those an additional exclamation point.
As it currently stands, only two of the Bengals' wins have come against teams with winning records--the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The current records of the eight teams the Bengals have beaten stands at 29-45, following the loss to the Houston Texans.
Is it that the teams they faced ran into a Cincinnati buzzsaw, or are the Bengals once again simply beating teams they should? Only after Houston's win against them at Paul Brown Stadium did Cincinnati have a division leader on their schedule through Week 10. They've also played one more game at home than on the road to this point.
The Ravens are shockingly bad this year, while the Seahawks don't seem to be the same "Legion of Boom" and the Browns are a seemingly automatic "W" once again in 2015. It's also important to keep in mind that four of the eight wins were one-possession wins against teams that currently stand at 14-23.
You also have to consider the injuries of the opposition during the first half of the schedule. Sammy Watkins had a touchdown reception to pull Buffalo into a tight contest at the half, but an injury forced him out of the lineup the rest of the game. Marshawn Lynch didn't play against Cincinnati, while undrafted back Thomas Rawls gashed the Bengals. Cleveland was missing receiving options in Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Rob Housler, as well as defensive stars in Joe Haden and Donte Whitner .
In Defense of Bengals:
Part of the DNA of a good team is taking care of business that should be handled. Cincinnati has definitely done so with the way their schedule has been laid out and beaten teams they should beat, given the transparent talent disparity. The Steelers, Bills and Seahawks are no slouches, even in "off years", and the Ravens, no matter how down they seem, are never an easy win--especially in Baltimore.
Beating all three division rivals through the first half of the season is no easy feat, especially with two on the road to the annual bullies. Buffalo is scrapping to make a Wild Card berth, while the Chiefs have won three straight, including one in Denver against a playoff-bound Broncos squad, after five consecutive losses.
True Barometer Ahead:
The final seven games that the Bengals face provides the answer to the question we're proposing. After taking their first loss of the season, the Bengals have to travel west to the desert and take on a 7-2 Arizona Cardinals team. And, you guessed it, they will be going up against their former quarterback who scorned them five years ago on prime time television.
They face another currently 4-5 team in the Jekyll and Hyde St. Louis Rams, as well as the current 7-2 Broncos in Denver. They also have the other half of the AFC North schedule, which is never easy no matter the win-loss column. Even what looks like a sure-fire win against the reeling San Francisco 49ers provides two pitfalls in another West Coast trip and the prime time stigma with the televised scheduling of the game.
If the Bengals were to basically split the rest of the games (either 3-4 or 4-3), which is realistic, they would have either tied or beaten the franchise marks for wins in a season. The playoffs are a distinct possibility and it's important to realize that it's been a banner year thus far in 2015. Still, any loss, especially like the uninspired one the entire country watched on Monday night, breeds questions.