I will admit, I had concerns this could be a trap game (like Houston) and with the Bengals historic struggles against no-name backup quarterbacks, I was a tiny bit nervous going into Sunday. It's safe to say, the Bengals put those worries to rest early.
The Browns are bad.
Since rejoining the NFL in 1999, the Browns have been the laughing stock of the league the way the Bengals were in the 1990's and early 2000's. At this point, I would say the Browns' organization during this stretch has been worse than the Bengals during their stretch of ineptitude - unfortunately for Browns fans, I do not see an end in sight.
The Bengals did what they were supposed to do.
It is hard to learn much against a team as bad as the Browns, but the most important thing about a game like this is putting in your work, not looking past the opponent and proving your superiority. The Bengals did that. I can assure you, the Bengals were looking ahead to their rematch with the Steelers this week, but they didn't let it get in the way of doing what needed to be done in Cleveland.
The Bengals had a few injured starters sitting out and appeared to use this game to get healthy.
I don't know this for sure, but I am thinking if this game were not against the Browns - and were instead against the Steelers or Broncos, the Bengals inactive list would have been different. It is my opinion, the Bengals believed they could win this game without the likes of Tyler Eifert, George Iloka and Leon Hall and decided to steal a week of rest for these players to get them healthier for their next two games. I think it worked well.
Andy Dalton continues to have an MVP caliber season.
Don't look now, but after 12 games (or ¾ of the season), the quarterback of your Cincinnati Bengals, Andy Dalton, leads the NFL with a quarterback rating of 107.4. Yes, Andy Dalton is ahead of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, and, every other quarterback in the league. He also ranks 3rd in QBR (74.4), is tied for 6th in touchdowns (25) and only two quarterbacks with 200+ attempts have thrown less interceptions than Dalton's six. Dalton is on pace to set or tie the franchise records in touchdowns, completion percentage, interceptions, rating and QBR. With the seasons Newton, Palmer and Brady are having, Dalton is not getting much discussion for MVP, but his play has been worthy of a seat at the table.
Jeremy Hill may be back.
The Browns have a way of helping struggling teams and players get back on track and I am hoping they did so with Hill. In the last two weeks, Hill has 184 yards on 38 carries (4.8 YPC) and is beginning to look like the Jeremy Hill we thought we would see all 2015. This is a huge development, because if the Bengals can pair an effective power running game with their explosive passing attack, that will be one hell of a task for a defense to stop.
A lot of Bengals rookies got some critical playing time on Sunday.
Thanks to injured starters - and the score - the Bengals got the opportunity to get some rookies their first playing time, something that could be important come playoff time. We saw the future tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the game together. Josh Shaw saw a ton of time before getting hurt. Mario Alford and C.J. Uzomah had their first catches. Tyler Kroft got a lot more action in the passing game. AJ McCarron got in for a handful of snaps and P.J. Dawson and Troy Hill even made appearances. While it may seem nominal at the moment, as we come down the stretch and enter the playoffs, real game minutes for these rookies could prove huge if they are needed due to injuries down the stretch.
Without Joe Haden, the Browns didn't stand a chance covering A.J. Green.
The Browns had to be very happy knowing that Eifert would be wandering around the sidelines as opposed to roaming the seem, but not having Haden to cover Green had to concern them - or it should have. Green is simply too good for any other corner the Browns could run out there. While Green only had five receptions, he collected 128 yards at 25.6 per pop and a touchdown.
If the season ended today, the Bengals would be the number one seed in the AFC.
It means nothing at this point, but it sure is nice! Thanks to their 8-1 conference record, the Bengals would hold the tie-breaker at the moment with Denver and New England. What is relevant? At the moment, the Bengals are the healthiest team in the AFC and are currently playing great football.
We are on to Pittsburgh.
With a win this Sunday, the Bengals can clinch the AFC North and deal a huge blow to the Steelers' playoff chances on Sunday.