As we head into Week 9 of the 2015 season, Bengals fans have to be feeling pretty good about the team's perfect 8-0 record. To this point we've seen a wide range of winning styles, which is one way to prove that you're ready to win in situation. They've blown out clearly inferior teams such as their 33-13 win in Oakland in Week 1 and their 31-10 win over Cleveland on Thursday.
There have also been ugly wins, games in which the Bengals looked to be generally outplayed by their opponents through most of the game, but found a way to get the winning result in the end, such as their 17 point comeback win against Seattle in Week 5 or their fourth quarter comeback against Pittsburgh in Week 8 in which they never led through the first 57 minutes of play.
So what will that mean for the rest of the season? It's not going to be easy. We've already discussed how many primetime games the Bengals will face going forward. We've already gotten through the Thursday Night game against the Browns, but they will still play two Monday Night games against the Texans and Broncos and a Sunday Night game in San Francisco. Tack on the Bengals' Week 11 game in Arizona that has been flexed to Sunday Night and half of the team's remaining games that will take place in prime time.
The 8-0 start to the season also means the Bengals could go .500 for the rest of the season and still end up 12-4. With a 3.5 game lead in the AFC North and three division wins under their belt (two on the road), it's a pretty safe bet that the Bengals will win the division. At this point, it's about fighting with the other division winners for seeding.
You wouldn't be crazy to think the Patriots have a shot at 16-0, but it's still a pretty unlikely scenario. Unfortunately, 15-1 or 16-0 might be the final record the Bengals need to edge New England out for the No. 1 seed. How likely is that final record? Here's how I see it:
Monday, Nov. 16 vs. Houston Texans - W
The Texans have won two of their last three games, but the loss came against the Miami Dolphins in which they allowed 41 points to be scored in the first half alone. On top of Arian Foster being out for the season, the Texans have looked disorganized lately, highlighted by Ryan Mallett missing the team's flight to Miami and his subsequent release from the team. Any team can on win any given Sunday (or Monday), but this is a game that very few will give the Texans much of a chance to win.
Sunday, Nov 22 @ Arizona Cardinals - L
As much as I love the idea of Geno Atkins walloping Palmer to send the Bengals to an unprecedented 10-0 record, the bend but don't break defense strategy won't work in Arizona. The Bengals have the fifth most sacks in the NFL (23) and the 13th most interceptions (8). But, Carson Palmer has few interceptions (6) and few sacks (11). Something is going to have to give, but it's unlikely for the Bengals to stay undefeated all season. The Bengals haven't been a great primetime team and it'll be even harder so far away from home, in a different timezone against a very good team.
Sunday, Nov 29 vs. St. Louis Rams - W
A week after traveling to Arizona, the Bengals will get to return home against a sacrificial lamb, of sorts. The Rams are certainly a good team, but the Bengals are a better team and will have the home field advantage. The Rams rank near the bottom of the league in points per game (23.7), while the Bengals rank third from the top (28.6). Don't expect a shootout, because you should probably be expecting the Bengals to run away with this one.
Sunday, Dec 6 @ Cleveland Browns - L
Do you remember the last time the Bengals swept the Browns in a season? It was Andy Dalton's first year in the league (2011), and ever since, they seem to have some sort of mental block against taking a win twice in one season over their in-state rivals. This one is going to be in Cleveland, but that didn't help the Browns last year as the Bengals won 30-0. Division games are always tough and games against the Browns are always unpredictable. It's tough to see the Bengals losing two games in three weeks with how well the season has gone so far, but Josh McCown could be back under center by this game, depending on what the Browns' organization decides on at the quarterback position, and McCown's overall QB rating this season (95.0) has been much better than Manziel's (84.5).
Sunday, Dec 13 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers - W
As the only team with a reasonable chance to threaten the Bengals for the AFC North division crown so far this season, (and they don't really have a chance) the Pittsburgh Steelers are unlikely to be a team that the Bengals will overlook, like the Browns. The Bengals already won the all-important road game against them in Week 8, and Ben Roethlisberger will once again be fresh off returning from an injury. Without Le'Veon Bell available at all to set the tempo for the Steelers' offense this time, it's hard to imagine the Bengals losing such an important game.
Sunday, Dec. 20 @ San Francisco 49ers - W
What will the San Francisco 49ers look like going into their Week 15 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday Night? For the first seven weeks they were dealing with all of the familiar symptoms of a "dumpster fire." However, in Week 9 they benched Colin Kaepernick in lieu of Blaine Gabbert who came out and played well enough to help the 49ers secure a win. The problem is, he went down with a concussion in the process. So, it seems like it's back so square one for the 49ers. The 49ers rank dead last in points per game (14) and this doesn't look likely to improve in the next five weeks. Trips across the country for primetime games aren't fun, but this is a very winnable game for the Bengals from where we stand right now.
Monday, Dec 28 @ Denver Broncos - W
By this point in the season, the Bengals will be getting used to the West Coast schedule. The Broncos lost in their Week 9 game against the Indianapolis Colts largely due to Peyton Manning's inability to make up for his defense struggling. Andy Dalton has been one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL this year, and his offensive weapons are enough to scare any defense. Look for the Bengals to score the clutch win here as Andy Dalton out-plays Manning.
Sunday, Jan. 3 vs. Baltimore Ravens - W
I think Marvin Lewis understands the importance of seeding. If he doesn't, he probably hasn't paid enough attention during his career as the Bengals' head coach while they've lost in the first round of the playoffs due to poor preparation, injuries, playing on the road, or some combination of the three. If the Bengals are in position for a first-round bye in Week 17, Marvin Lewis will make the call to play the starters and try to win the game. And they definitely can pull off the win if they put in the effort. They've already beaten the Ravens in Baltimore and they'll have the home crowd on their side this time. Plus, the Ravens have suffered a number of key injuries since the Bengals played them in Week 3, weakening their team even more.