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NFL Week 16 Lions at Bengals game preview: Kings of the jungle

The Bengals and Lions meet on Christmas Eve with both teams trending in different directions. Does a battered Cincinnati roster have enough in the tank to get a win?

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Bengals’ loss to the Steelers back in Week 13, many things have transpired within the organization. One of which is a multitude of injuries that has since landed a number of players on Injured Reserve.

There has also been two embarrassing losses, a slew of rumors, as well as opinions on how the Bengals should go about improving themselves this offseason. It would appear that Marvin Lewis’ time is up in The Queen City, with just two games remaining in his reign.

This week, the Bengals host the Detroit Lions—a team with a number of parallels to Mike Brown’s club. Unfortunately, the parallels are in the negatives—the lack of Super Bowl championships, failing to find a semblance of a winning culture and stumbling in the biggest moments have come to be the labels of the Bengals and the Lions.

And, make no mistake, this week is a big one for Detroit.

Even though Cincinnati is stumbling through a 5-9 season at the moment, the Lions are very much alive for the playoffs. At 8-6, this road game against the embattled Bengals could be a do-or-die situation for Jim Caldwell’s team.

Matthew Stafford, who signed a huge five-year, $135 million deal this offseason, has done his part. He’s sniffing 4,000 passing yards, to go with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

A major reason for his success is wide receiver, Marvin Jones. Since leaving Cincinnati in the 2016 offseason for a higher-profile role with the Lions, he has had a number of highlight-reel plays. Jones has career-highs in yards (970) and average yards per catch (18.0), while also grabbing eight touchdowns.

However, this scrappy Detroit team isn’t without its flaws. They have a pedestrian ranking running the football at No. 16, as they haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in four years. Spoiler alert: that was Reggie Bush.

Their defense hasn’t helped out much either, as they are ranked at No. 27 overall. In speaking with SB Nation’s Pride of Detroit this week, Jeremy Reisman and the gang told me about the Lions’ inconsistency getting to the passer in 2017.

But, in such Bengals-like fashion, Brown’s team just happens to provide scenarios for the opposition to succeed. After inexplicably allowing both Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler to leave in free agency, the Bengals’ offensive line had a year filled with massive setbacks.

Now, even with those two aforementioned losses, Cincinnati’s offensive line is facing even further attrition at the end of this season. Cedric Ogbuehi is out this week, while Andre Smith and Jake Fisher are both on Injured Reserve.

The offensive line isn’t the only position group that has been hit by the injury bug, though. The linebacker corps has been decimated by the same “illness”, as well as overall underperformance.

Nick Vigil is now also on I.R., as is the team’s big outside free agency acquisition, Kevin Minter. Vontaze Burfict looks to be back this week, but he’ll be flanked by a slew of inexperienced players.

Tackling and blocking are two of the most fundamental aspects of football. The Bengals are severely handicapped in these areas this week, hence why this one could be a third consecutive Cincinnati horror show.

Some fans have been clamoring for AJ McCarron to start these final two games, in an effort to see what the route should be in 2018 for their most important position. Andy Dalton is still set to start, but with a patchwork line in front of him, Lewis may want to keep the leash tightened for safety purposes.

Maybe I’m being overdramatic. After all, these are professionals on a team who had once made five straight postseason berths just two short years ago. Still, there will be a number of new faces out there for the final weeks of what is quickly becoming like the 2017 mercy killing of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Joe Mixon joins Vontaze Burfict back in the lineup after “the concussion game” on Monday night a few weeks ago. After his first career 100-yard game in Week 12 against Cleveland, the rookie back is looking to end the year on a high note.

It’s possible that the team rides both he and Giovani Bernard this week to get their sixth win. Bernard has had three consecutive productive weeks, after being buried behind both Mixon and Jeremy Hill for much of the year.

But, can that embattled line open holes for the two of them?

For many Who Dey faithful, apathy has set in again this year. Many fans are hoping the team loses out so that they have prime draft status—after all, that is their offseason bread and butter.

Still, with the postseason out of the picture and so many injuries, these final two games are about seeing what depth the team truly has in their youth. There are probably going to be some unfamiliar names to the casual fan, but those can quickly turn into contributors in future seasons.

Either Lewis will rally the troops on what seems to be his last two games, or more lopsided losses will litter the end of the season. I’m inclined to think the latter is a higher probability.

There won’t be a Christmas miracle for the Bengals this year. However, their most prized gifts may come in the month of January instead of December. Those, of course are in the form of new coaches and a new organizational approach—something that isn’t necessarily up Santa’s alley.

Lions 27, Bengals 16

AC — Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.