Unfortunately for Bengals fans, the team isn’t in a much better situation than they were at this time last year. At 5-7 and coming off of a critical and heartbreaking loss to the Steelers, the faint postseason pulse they held last Sunday is starting to call for the defibrillator paddles.
While the founder of the Bengals, Paul Brown, is one of the most recognizable and iconic names in football, few franchises hold the historical luster of this week’s foe. The Chicago Bears rarely face off against Cincinnati, but their decorated NFL background still holds weight.
Unlike the Bengals, though, George Halas’ team hasn’t found a sense of continuity of late. Their two most positions on any football team—head coach and quarterback—have been on a bit of a carousel since the days of Mike Ditka and Jim McMahon.
Sure, it’s only been four head coaches (Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox) who have been employed during Marvin Lewis’ own 15 years with the Bengals, but their trotting out of at least seven different signal-callers in that span makes the foursome of Carson Palmer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron seem like an NFL Mount Rushmore of the position.
Additionally, we knew that the Bears have always been a running back-centric team, but Jay Cutler and his seven injury-riddled seasons as the starting quarterback in Chicago hold many of the team’s passing records. Go figure.
This year, though, Chicago took a major roll of the dice with a rookie quarterback named Mitchell Trubisky. After taking on Mike Glennon and giving him a lucrative contract, they benched him after four games and let the newbie take the reigns of the team.
Chicago surprised many with a move up to No. 2 overall in the draft to get Trubisky, and he has yet to show he’s got the stuff they need at the position. In eight starts, Trubisky has just five touchdown passes against four interceptions, a sub-55-percent completion percentage and an average of 155 passing yards per game.
So, is he Ryan Leaf, or is he Carson Wentz?
Making things more difficult for Trubisky this week is his facing of the No. 5 defense in quarterback sacks and the No. 7 pass defense. Cincinnati has had a hard time finding its identity on both sides of the ball this year, but these two facets have been relatively reliable in an unsteady 2017 campaign.
Helping out Trubisky is Chicago’s solid running back duo of Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard. They’ve combined for 1,152 yards and seven rushing touchdowns this year, despite the ineffectiveness of the passing game.
Hey, let’s not pretend it’s been much better in Cincinnati this year. While Andy Dalton hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 7, their total offense is ranked No. 31 overall (one spot ahead of Chicago), complete with the 26th-ranked passing offense and the 30th-ranked rushing attack.
How does this team have five wins again?
Speaking of wins, both Fox and Lewis have come under major fire this season. After taking the Panthers and Broncos to the Super Bowl in his career, the leash has shortened greatly in The Windy City, as his nearly-three-year record currently sits at a paltry 12-31.
Since losing the 2015 Wild Card game, Lewis’ Bengals are 11-16-1 and are oh-so-close to be making their golf reservations for the month of January. Not surprisingly, Fox and Lewis are very close, as they’ve spent quite a bit of time together on USO tours and the like.
However, when looking at the rosters, even with just a two-win differential between the two clubs, the talent scale tends to tip in Cincinnati’s favor. You wouldn’t note the closeness of Fox and Lewis based on their overall lack of recycling former players in their respective teams, but the bond is there.
Still, playing into Chicago’s corner this week is the staggering amount of injuries to starters and important Bengals role players. All-Pro Geno Atkins has a toe issue, while seven other prominent players have been dealing with ailments this week.
Really, in terms of a coaching matchup, this one would have been rad one back in 2003 or 2005. Unfortunately, for most who follow the NFL landscape, it more seems like one between two coaches on the older end of the age spectrum, as they seem to be examples of guys who have let the game pass them by recently.
Aside from just this week’s lack of Cincinnati star power, questions continue to linger about John Ross’s relationship with Lewis and the Bengals. Though they are in a bit of a different situation, Chicago wasn’t shy about playing their 2017 top-10 pick in Trubisky.
Given the team rankings in many statistical categories and their respective records, this game has blase written all over it. Really, the disparity of the score depends on how angry Cincinnati will be when the first second ticks off of the clock.
Bears 12, Bengals 26
AC — Bears and tigers are fun, but I’m over the circus.