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A new NFL season is here as the postseason begins this weekend.
After a wild regular season that saw the likes of the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers atop the rankings for much of the first half of the season, both teams have fallen hard as the year wore on. New England opened the year with a red-hot 10-0 start and talks of an undefeated season, but an onslaught of injuries led to them losing four of their final six games.
As for Green Bay, they opened with a 6-0 start and looked in complete control of the NFC North, but went on to finish 4-6 the rest of the way and lost the division to the Minnesota Vikings.
Looking toward the Cincinnati Bengals, an 8-0 start also had them looking like one of the NFL's elite, but it's hard to say if they still are after a 4-4 finish. There's not much question they are elite if Andy Dalton is healthy, but his thumb injury will likely leave AJ McCarron starting at least one playoff game.
That's why SB Nation's Danny Kelly is not moving up Cincinnati in his latest rankings, keeping them at lucky No. 7.
It's a similar situation for the Bengals, who will have to do the unlikely and win in the postseason with a backup quarterback at the helm. They're balanced, though, with a strong run game featuring Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard, an elite No. 1 receiver in A.J. Green, and a tough defense, so once the tournament starts, anything is possible. Their not-so-secret weapon is of course Hue Jackson, whose playcalling and offensive design brilliance has been on full display this season and hasn't ended with Andy Dalton's thumb injury. A.J. McCarron is young and inexperienced, but Jackson's surely going to put together a smart gameplan to get the most out of him.
At ESPN, the Bengals come in at No. 6 for the second straight week.
The Bengals won 12 games for the first time since 1988, when they lost the Super Bowl. Will this be the year Marvin Lewis (0-6) gets his first playoff win?
The one ranking that totally disrespects the Bengals this week was USA Today's, who dropped Cincy three spots and is more concerned about the possible QB controversy that would ensue if McCarron leads the Bengals to a playoff win, something Dalton has failed to do.
If AJ McCarron leads them to first playoff win in a quarter century ... they might have a really big problem on their hands.
Even more egregious from that ranking is that Pittsburgh rose two spots and passed the Bengals after beating...the Cleveland Browns of all teams. As for the rest of the rankings, Pittsburgh is in the top 10 of every ranking other than Bleacher Report's while USA Today and NFL.com are the lone rankings to have the Steelers ahead of the Bengals.
As for Peter King of the MMQB, he dropped the Bengals two spots while providing the sober reality of Saturday's game for the Bengals either being led by a quarterback making just his fourth NFL start, or one that's done virtually nothing for the past month while recovering from a broken thumb.
Let’s say Andy Dalton plays Saturday night. It’s still just 27 days between fracturing one’s throwing thumb and dueling Ben Roethlisberger in a playoff game. That’s not optimal.
NFL.com's Elliot Harrison did bump up the Bengals one spot in his latest rankings.
Confidence-building win for the AJ McCarron-led Bengals, which likely will be the version we see hosting the Steelers in this week's wild-card game. Of course, McCarron's first non-mop-up action this season came against that very opponent, with mixed results. And it was that very matchup in the 2005 wild-card round that saw the career arc of then- Bengals QB Carson Palmer change forever, courtesy of a torn ACL, while Pittsburgh went on to win its first Super Bowl since the 1970s. We should know more regarding Andy Dalton's availability later this week, but it's looking more and more like it'll be AJ to A.J. again. As my colleague @_EricDavis_ said on NFL Network, "This is the chance for the Cincinnati Bengals to not be little brother." Yep.
In the end, the Bengals had a great regular season, and if not for the Dalton injury, likely would have finished as a top-five team in every rankings. As it stands, no one really cares how they finish a season unless it's as Super Bowl winners. That's the Bengals' ultimate goal, and anything less is going to be a disappointment to them.
Here's a roundup of each major power ranking from this week compared to last week.
|CBS Sports (Pete Prisco)||5||5||0|