Unfortunately, a few of the Bengals' best players will likely miss this contest due to injury. While all of the attention is on Andy Dalton and his injured thumb, star tight end Tyler Eifert may not play in this game either. According to NFL.com's Rand Getlin, Eifert is not only going to miss this game, but will also likely be held out for the regular season finale against the Ravens, too.
Nothing definitive yet, but it's possible we won't see Eifert again until the playoffs. The #Bengals want to do right by him.— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) December 23, 2015
Eifert has not officially been ruled out of the game by the team and this report may in fact be inaccurate. His concussion will be evaluated day-to-day as Monday's matchup approaches. Eifert could exit the NFL's concussion protocol prior to Monday.
Eifert, who was just named to the 2016 Pro Bowl, ranks second in the NFL with 12 touchdowns scored after leading the league in scoring before suffering a concussion vs Pittsburgh in Week 14. That came as a result of a big hit from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, who was fined for the hit, which caused Eifert to miss last week's win over the San Francisco 49ers.
This is a tough blow for the Bengals' offense if Eifert is in fact out for the Monday Night Football clash between two Super Bowl contenders. Then again, it's hard to call Cincinnati a contender if both Dalton and Eifert are out during the playoffs, so it's easy to see why the Bengals don't want to risk Eifert being out during the postseason, even if it means sacrificing a better chance at a first-round bye.
If the Bengals win Monday night, they'll clinch at least the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. That would give Dalton and Eifert more time to return, though it's unclear if Dalton can even return by then as he rehabs his broken thumb on his throwing hand. It's very unlikely Dalton returns for the regular-season finale vs the Baltimore Ravens, but Cincinnati should be able to beat them without Eifert and Dalton.
It also helps that rookie tight end Tyler Kroft is starting to come into his own as he gets more playing time with Eifert out. Just last Sunday, Kroft hauled in his first NFL touchdown on a 20-yard strike from AJ McCarron in the second quarter. He finished the game with three grabs for 31 yards on just three targets. (One of those was hardly a target as Kroft jumped up to catch a nearly-intercepted ball and was able to come down with it.
Still, Eifert was playing like the best tight end in football for much of this season, and not having him is a massive loss for this offense going against one of the NFL's best defenses in Denver. The Broncos have allowed just 16 passing touchdowns this season, six of which came from tight ends and just five from wide receivers.
As much adversity as these Bengals have overcome this season, this may be their biggest challenge of 2015. If they somehow manage to overcome it, there's no question they deserve the AFC's No. 2 seed and that much-needed bye week.