The Cincinnati Bengals come into Week 8 at a major crossroads. After two straight crushing losses, the team needs a win before the bye to have their playoff hopes back on the radar.
There’s a huge difference between 4-4 and 5-3 at the midway point. And, to drive this point home, the leaders of the Bengals’ locker room called a rare “players-only meeting,” hoping to provide a catalyst to another postseason run under Marvin Lewis’ watch.
We’ll see if it works, as those types of occurrences can usually be pointed to as a seasonal turning point when hindsight is applied.
Dirk Koetter’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into town in a similar situation. They’ve been through a lot this year, but are still alive in the playoff hunt at 3-3.
There’s a line in the sand for some folks at the quarterback position down south this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick started out hot, but relented to Jameis Winston—the talented, but somewhat-troubled franchise quarterback.
Winston quieted those who wanted more “Fitzmagic” upon the former No. 1 overall pick’s return from suspension with a win against the Browns last week, but there are lingering questions.
Regardless, it’s a gigantic game for Winston and Bengals quarterback, Andy Dalton. Too dramatic?
Unfortunately for both teams, they come into the matchup pretty wounded. Cincinnati had 10 players out of practice on the Wednesday injury report, probably prompting some fans to to utter “who’s that?” regarding a number of players when watching the game Sunday.
John Ross, Giovani Bernard, Billy Price, Nick Vigil, Vontaze Burfict and Tyler Kroft all appear to be guys who the team will get back after next week’s bye, which definitely hurts the Bengals’ chances against the Buccaneers.
However, it’s a great week for Dalton and Co. to get things back on track—even with their own personnel losses. Kwon Alexander, Vernon Hargreaves, Mitch Unrein and Chris Conte are all on Tampa Bay’s Injured Reserve.
These respective situations take a little bit of luster out of the game, but also provide golden opportunities for two teams who are desperate for a win this weekend.
One interesting storyline coming into Sunday is actually part of the Marvin Lewis coaching tree. Mike Smith, the former Atlanta Falcons head coach, was fired from his defensive coordinator duties this week, paving the way for Mark Duffner to take over.
You remember Duffner, right? After all, he was the architect of many dominant Bengals’ defenses in that oh-so-memorable stretch of Bengals football from 1997-2002. He was both a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator during the span and was shown the door with Lewis’ arrival.
Did I forget the “sarcasm font”?
Oddly enough, Lewis and the Bengals have had some very frustrating games against Tampa Bay in recent history. In 2006, which was one of those seasons that made Who Dey faithful want to tear their hair out, Cincinnati lost in the oddest of fashions.
Most people remember the three-game skid to end the year, but few recall the Week 6 debacle against the Bucs that season. After grabbing a late 13-7 lead, Justin Smith was inexplicably called for roughing the passer, leading to a critical 14-13 loss.
Four years later, the team was reeling because of locker room malcontents and other issues and lost in Week 5, in what became the early stages of a 10-game losing streak. The 24-21 loss kickstarted the need for an overhaul that following offseason.
Then, in 2014 after battling numerous injuries, Cincinnati squeaked by a terrible Tampa Bay team that won just two games that year. In a similar twist of fate from eight years earlier, the Bengals were victorious, 14-13, but the doubts that were left after that matchup were ultimately realized in yet another Wild Card loss to the Colts.
So, what’s in store this Sunday at 1 pm ET?
Common sense would tell you that another nail-biter is in store—especially with the scattered past history between the clubs. Given the similarities between the teams this year, that could definitely be the case once again.
Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin will give the beleaguered Cincinnati defense fits on Sunday to be sure. Second round pick Ronald Jones II has been a bit of a disappointment so far, but he is slated to get more touches going forward and many struggling players have seemingly found their groove against the Bengals in the past (Trent Richardson, cough, cough) for some inexplicable reason.
Don’t worry though, Bengals fans. Marvin Lewis recently noted that he realizes tackles are a problem. And Dre Kirkpatrick has apparently taken it to heart as well. So, we’re all good.
Step 1 to winning on Sunday: TACKLE. pic.twitter.com/YBSD4aoXLU— Cincy Jungle (@CincyJungle) October 25, 2018
Did I forget that pesky “sarcasm font” again?
Still, this seems like a game that will have a lot of weird bounces and may even have a ambiance of sloppiness after some three and a half hours of football have ensued. Cincinnati can’t seem to stop potent offenses like the one Tampa Bay employs, but the men in stripes have also been known to get really streaky within contests.
Believe it or not, despite the past two weeks’ results and the massive slate of injuries, I see Cincinnati handling business in a relatively easy manner this week. After all, Marv, this is one of those games you’re supposed to win, right?
Would you like some more high-level, professional analysis? Okay, then. I think the Bengals are pissed. They’ve had their name drug through the mud for two weeks, are returning home and want to take it out on someone.
Buccaneers 23, Bengals 31
AC — Cap’n Jack Sparrow got nothin’ on me.