With the Bengals slipping to 5-8-1 and now officially eliminated from playoff contention, it sure seems like there is nothing left for the Bengals to play for in 2016. A losing season is also now guaranteed, which is a tough pill to swallow. In fact, many Bengals fans I have talked to recently have expressed their frustration with the game and are finding it hard to care about the rest of the season, which includes two holiday games on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.
That perspective is understandable. 2016 has been a massive disappointment after the Bengals put together one of the best seasons in franchise history just last year. Now that things have changed oh so significantly, why should we even keep watching? Well, primarily because there is still so much to watch. The players are still going to be playing these next two games as hard as they have all season, so there are plenty of angles you can take on the rest of the season to keep things interesting.
Who builds momentum heading into 2017?
Part of the Bengals’ problem in 2016 has been all the turnover and new faces from the offseason. That doesn’t excuse the poor performances, but it does give reason to believe that the Bengals can build on the good performances they had, such as those against the Browns and Eagles.
Many of the Bengals’ games this year have been close, so a bit more experience and chemistry from the young players could have made the season look completely different. In the last four losses, the margin of victory for the opposing team is a combined 14 points! That's not a big spread for four combined losses.
Many of the Bengals’ young players have been performing better in recent weeks, which could lead to plenty of confidence and momentum for a more cohesive Bengals team in 2017. We will be seeing exactly how all of that plays out over the next couple of weeks, so Bengals fans will want to see a sneak peek of which players will look exciting going forward. Cody Core, Nick Vigil, DeShawn Williams and of course Tyler Boyd are a few guys to keep your eyes on.
Who needs to go after Week 17?
Unfortunately, part of getting better in 2017 means tying up loose ends. That means more turnover might be coming. Don’t expect long standing individuals like Marvin Lewis or Rey Maualuga to be outright sacked at the end of the season, despite the fact that many fans feel their performance has slipped enough to warrant an ousting. Maybe those things will happen, but let's not bank on it just yet. That’s not the way the Bengals work. But, there are still plenty of moves that might be made.
It would be surprising to see underperforming veterans like Michael Johnson not back with the team next year. But, given their performances in 2016, there is a good chance that the Bengals remove them from the starting lineup going forward. On the offensive side of the ball, the Bengals need to figure out what they are going to do with the recently benched Cedric Ogbuehi, the now-starting Jake Fisher, and the dismal running game.
One player for whom these last two games means a lot for is Margus Hunt, whose rookie contract with the team will be up at the end of this season. He was really good at the beginning of the season and has had a few solid performances here and there since. His seven tackles, two pass deflections, and multiple disruptions in the kicking game this season are nearly half of the production he has had for the rest of his career.
That shows a clear sign of improvement for the former second round pick. But, has it been enough for the Bengals to continue trusting his development at a defensive end position that is surprisingly thin? How he plays in these next two games will probably decide that.
This is still Bengals football
Most Bengals fans go out of their way to watch any Bengals games, even the preseason matchups that naturally feature few starters and mean absolutely nothing to the final standings. Why? Because many of us desperately miss football when there is no football to watch.
Football is a fun part of our weekly routines during the season, which goes well beyond the hope that a bunch of athletes with ridiculous salaries win that week. It gives us an excuse to hang out with friends, trash talk with rival fans, and watch human beings perform feats that none of us would be able to replicate in a million years.
And when the season is over, just think how much you're going to miss Bengals football. Admit it, you are. The offseason is REALLY long.
So, yes, the rest of the Bengals’ games are meaningless to their ultimate goal. But, many of us are going to be griping about the lack of football we have to watch in a few months. We might as well enjoy what we do have, while we still have it.