Bengals dominate the Browns, 37-3. Cincinnati improves to 10-2, second-best record in AFC. pic.twitter.com/tkbJ4Aj0fx— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 6, 2015
Due to their win and the New England Patriots' loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati now holds the No. 1 seed in the AFC if the playoffs began today. There's still four games left this season, but this is the first time in quite some time the Bengals have held the top spot entering the final quarter of the regular season.
A two-game losing streak going into Week 12 had many wondering if the Bengals were for real, but they dispelled that doubt with a vengeance. They've now beaten the Browns and St. Louis Rams by a combined 68-10 margin over the past two weeks. A big reason why is the emerging ground game as a result of the Bengals dominating in the trenches:
#Bengals rushing last 2 weeks: 64-284 (4.4).— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) December 7, 2015
A big reason for that is Jeremy Hill who had a great game and was the highest-graded running back in Week 13 by Pro Football Focus:
Running back: Jeremy Hill, Bengals (+3.1)
Cincinnati wanted to see more out of Hill, and they got it. He may have fallen just short of 100 yards, but his 22 carries really put the Browns on the back foot.
Coley Harvey also dished out praise for Hill, who's coming on strong after not doing much of note during the first 10 games this season.
It seemed like for the entire first half of the season Hill couldn't pull himself out of the "down" portion of our weekly post-game stock watches. But finally, at long last, the second-year running back is turning a corner. After he couldn't rush for more than 63 yards in a single game the first 11 weeks of the season, he has just posted an 86-yard and a 98-yard tally in back-to-back weeks. Hill had a chance at cracking 100 but fell just shy on a drive late in the fourth quarter. He also had a touchdown, pushing him to eight rushing scores this year. Entering the game, his seven rushing touchdowns ranked third in the league.
NFL.com's Marc Sessler made sure to point out how badly the Bengals dominated the Browns in the trenches and made this look like as big of a mismatch as you'll see between two NFL teams:
Chalk it up as another paint-by-numbers win for the surging Bengals, who barely broke a sweat in burying the lowly Browns. A dominant performance by Cincinnati's line and just enough from Andy Dalton revealed the wide talent chasm between a loaded Cincinnati offense and Cleveland's disorganized defense. This felt like a practice session for Cincy or maybe a well-conceived Madden win against one's technologically lost grandmother.
While A.J. Green hasn't had the kind of monster season we're accustomed to him having, he still did something Sunday that put him in the same company as one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game, which was enough to earn Green an ESPN game ball:
He eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season, his fifth straight 1,000-yard season to start his career. Randy Moss (six straight) is the only other player to start his career with five straight 1,000-yard seasons. -- Coley Harvey
But the real MVP of the Bengals offense this year has been Andy Dalton, who continues to set records and put himself in the elite company of NFL quarterbacks, as Geoff Hobson writes:
Don’t look now, but he (Dalton) joined the 3,000-yard club on the day he won his 50th game and became only the fourth quarterback since the 1970 merger to hit that number in his first five seasons.
It also marked his 24th road victory, setting a record for all quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era in the first five seasons of a career, and reflects the kind of focus the two have brought to their job their team. The Bengals are 24-14 on the road since they arrived. In the previous five seasons they were 12-28.
PFF also notes how well Dalton did against the Browns in terms of his accuracy on deep passes:
On passes going 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Dalton went 4-for-4 for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Cleveland blitzed the quarterback six times, and they might regret not going after Dalton more often as he was really unstoppable when not blitzed. On these plays Dalton put on a clinic and completed 12 of his 14 pass attempts for 189 yards and two touchdowns resulting in a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
In his weekly Monday morning quarterback article, Peter King had Dalton among his top MVP candidates:
I think I will start a section next week with my weekly view of the MVP race. But at the three-quarter mark of the season, here’s my top five right now, in order:
• Cam Newton, QB, Carolina.
• Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona.
• Tom Brady, QB, New England.
• Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati.
• J.J. Watt, DL, Houston.
But no one player may have impacted Cincy's win in Cleveland more than defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who Local 12's Richard Skinner made sure to give his game ball to:
He had an extremely active day with a sack, two quarterback hits, a forced fumble (when he tipped a backward pass attempt from Browns quarterback Austin Davis) and partially blocked a field goal attempt. He forced Davis to intentionally ground the ball on a fourth-quarter pass play in order to avoid a sack, too. He also had a sack wiped out when he grabbed Davis' facemask while taking Davis to the ground in the first quarter.
The sack he did get came in the third quarter and gives him 9.5 on the season, which ties his single-season career high.
The blocked field goal came on the opening drive of the third quarter when he got his fingertips on a 48-yard attempt by Browns kicker Travis Coons, causing the attempt to go awry.
As for the Bengals' next opponent, a red-hot Pittsburgh Steelers offense comes to Paul Brown Stadium in a similar scenario the two rivals were in last year. Cincy appeared to be in control of the AFC North while Pitt was just fighting for a playoff spot before coming into PBS and blowing out the Bengals.
Another showdown next week. Bengals defense allowed 10 points or less five of last six. Steelers averaging 35.2 points in last four.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) December 7, 2015
Despite that, Cincinnati is still the team oddsmakers are favoring this week:
Vegas says: #Bengals 3.5 point home favorite vs Steelers.— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) December 7, 2015
Here's what ESPN's Nick Wagoner had to say about the AFC-leading Bengals:
Andy Dalton is now the king of the castle, at least for this week. Nothing like games against the Rams and Browns in consecutive weeks to wipe away the memory of two consecutive losses. The Bengals rolled over Cleveland 37-3 on Sunday and now sit at the top of the AFC.
Tom Wither of the AP was very flattering of the Bengals, too.
Clobbering a rival isn't enough. Winning the division and clinching a playoff spot isn't satisfying. Not for these Cincinnati Bengals. Not anymore.
And on a final note, Marvin Jones knows which Ohio team runs this state: