Because the Bengals have owned the Lions in head-to-head meetings over the years, compiling an 8-3 overall record that includes victories in the last five games and eight of the last nine.
But history is the only thing that is only Cincinnati’s side Sunday afternoon when Detroit visits Paul Brown Stadium. The Lions, with a record of 8-6, are currently fighting for a spot in the playoffs, but will need plenty of help along the way. After the Bengals, Detroit faces Green Bay, who will probably be without Aaron Rodgers.
The Lions will need to win both of these final two games, and need the Falcons to lose both of their last two, against the Saints and the Panthers, in order to earn the playoff berth. That is because the Falcons beat the Lions in head-to-head competition this year, and own the tiebreaker advantage.
So Detroit will be hungry, and the Bengals are on life support. After a pair of blowout losses to another couple of NFC North teams, Cincinnati can only hope to play the spoiler – and, considering the fact that the Bengals will probably be playing with two new starting tackles after injuries to Cedric Ogbuehi and Andre Smith, even that appears unlikely.
But, in the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero, “While there’s life, there’s hope.”
And there is still life in these Bengals.
“I’m not going to quit,” said Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green. “It’s not in me. Those are words I live by.”
And the Bengals only need to look to history to see that, not only is it possible to beat the Lions on Sunday, it has happened before.
On December 11, 1983, the Detroit Lions came in to Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium with a record of 8-6, and hoping to lock up a playoff berth. The Bengals stood at 6-8 and had already been eliminated from playoff contention. But the similarities did not stop there.
Cincinnati currently has two games remaining in its season, and will be saying goodbye to its head coach, Marvin Lewis, at the end of the year. The Bengals had only two games remaining when they met the Lions in 1983, which would also be the last year for Cincinnati head coach Forest Gregg.
Lewis will be stepping down after 15 years at the helm of the Bengals. In 1983, Cincinnati also said goodbye to cornerback Ken Riley, who retired after 15 seasons in the NFL.
On that day 34 years ago, the Bengals sent their coach and probably their top cornerback of all time out on a winning note when they slogged their way to a 17-9 victory over the Lions.
And they did it by overcoming injuries to their star player. Quarterback Ken Anderson got hit in the head after a 14-yard scramble in the second quarter, and backup Turk Schonert had to go the rest of the way. Schonert managed to complete just 6 of 19 passes on the rainy afternoon, but it was the work of fullback Pete Johnson that saved the day for Cincinnati.
The 6’1”, 250-pound Johnson bulled his way to 118 yards on 26 carries and scored both of the Bengals’ touchdowns to carry his team to the improbable victory.
It does look like Cincinnati will get two of its star players back in time for Sunday’s game with Vontaze Burfict and Joe Mixon both coming off of the concussion protocol, but both of the Bengals’ starting tackles have been placed on injured reserve.
To top things off, the weather forecast is actually calling for rain on Sunday.
While the Bengals do not have a back the size of Johnson to hand the ball to in case of bad weather, they do have a big back on the roster in the form of Brian Hill, who is listed at 6’1” and 219 pounds. Hill carried the ball five times for 12 yards last week in his season debut.
And history will be made Sunday when two brothers line up against each other for the first time. Ryan Glasgow is a rookie defensive tackle for Cincinnati, while his brother, Graham, is in his second year with the Lions and has earned a starting role at center. The duo played together at Michigan and throughout high school, but have never faced off against one another.
A.J. Green can make some history of his own over the remaining two games. Green currently stands only three touchdowns shy of joining yet another exclusive club. Only six players in NFL history have reached both 8,000 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns in their first seven NFL seasons.
Those six are Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald and Sterling Sharpe. Green currently has 8,115 receiving yards and 57 touchdowns.
One way or another, history will be made Sunday afternoon. Whether it will repeat itself is a question that remains to be answered.