The Bengals have had some bad losses of late, but they came into a stretch of their schedule that was bound to be difficult.
Entering Week 6, the Bengals were 4-1 and in first place in the AFC North. Their next game was at home against the Steelers, whom they can never beat on their own turf. They dropped to 4-2 after losing a very winnable game against their divisional rivals, and the two of the three games that followed were blowout losses at the hands of the Chiefs and the Saints.
Through all of the recent turmoil, the Bengals now sit at 5-4; and just one and a half games back in the division. Head coach Marvin Lewis has appointed himself defensive coordinator and set himself up nicely in doing so. With the Ravens, Browns, and Broncos coming up the next few weeks, even a struggling defense is bound to look better than they did against the Saints, Buccaneers, and Chiefs in the previous three weeks.
If Lewis can provide a spark to get the defense going, the Bengals will still have a chance at the division title. Their remaining schedule gives them a good chance at doing just that.
Week 11: at Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore has perhaps the best defense in the NFL right now, but this is no longer a league where you can hope to hold a team to 14 points or less every week. Despite a lack of true talent around him, the presence of Lamar Jackson seemingly pushed Joe Flacco to the peak of his ability at the beginning of the season. This resurgence was short-lived and the Ravens have paid the price.
Now with Flacco’s injury, Jackson may be getting his chance to start. Although he is a great talent, the Ravens have not demonstrated in the packages they’ve used him in that they have any idea how to get the most out of him. He is also likely to be erratic with his intermediate accuracy, as this was a problem he had in college. If the Bengals can generate any offense, this should be a win.
Week 12: vs. Cleveland Browns
This game is terrifying. The Browns have a lot of talent and now with Hue Jackson out of the building, there is no telling what they will do. Their defense will miss tackles, but they also create an absurd amount of turnovers.
On the offense, rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb are really starting to come into their own. The Bengals need to win this game, but it is going to be tougher than it should be. They will need to score a lot of points offensively and avoid turnovers.
Week 13: vs. Denver Broncos
The Broncos are a team largely in turmoil because despite John Elway’s claim that he would keep taking shots at a quarterback, he drafted a pass rusher instead and settled for Case Keenum, Keenum has predictably regressed to what he was prior to last season with the Vikings, and the outcome has not been pretty. The Broncos are pretty good on defense and will get a good pass rush, but again, the quarterback play is a hindrance.
The Bengals beat them at Denver last year by a close margin. Now, head coach Vance Joesph brings his group into the jungle; assuming he hasn’t been fired and brought back as a special advisor to Marvin Lewis by that time. The Bengals have been pretty good at keeping quarterback Andy Dalton upright this season and as long as they can give him time to throw, they should prevail.
Week 14: at Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are having a great season, but because they are being upstaged both in their division and their home city, they are not getting as much hype as they deserve. They currently have only two losses; one to the Kansas City Chiefs and one to the Los Angeles Rams. The addition of rookie safety Derwin James to this defense has created a monster that will only grow stronger with the return of defensive end Joey Bosa.
Offensively, they have finally managed to keep enough of Philip Rivers’ weapons healthy to let him play to his potential. Because they are in the same division as the Chiefs, this team is bound for the 5th seed in the playoffs and whoever earns the 4th seed is in trouble. The Bengals have failed to show up against top competition this season and the trend likely continues here.
Week 15: vs. Oakland Raiders
This will be a matchup between an old coach who is stuck in his ways trying to do things that worked at the turn of the century with all of his friends... and Jon Gruden. (ba-dum-tss!)
The Raiders are a mess. Gruden is selling everything and hoarding draft picks in the process. Given that strategy at this point in the season they will probably be less than motivated to compete as it is nearing the end of the apparent tanking. The only thing that concerns me at all here is the Paul Guenther revenge game aspect. But Guenther left of his own volition and the first half of the Bengals 2018 season defensively should be more than enough revenge.
Week 16: at Cleveland Browns
The schedule makers put the Bengals in a tough situation by making them play a non-Hue Jackson led team twice. The Browns will be playing for pride at this point and Gregg Williams will be futilely fighting for the job. These games are dangerous, but need to be won.
at Pittsburgh Steelers
As of Week 10 the Bengals are a half game behind the Steelers for 1st place in the division. The Steelers will have to survive a rough December to get here playing the Chargers and New England Patriots at home, and visiting the New Orleans Saints. Even if the Bengals end up (God forbid) splitting with the Browns or losing another game they shouldn’t, this could easily be the game the division comes down to. The loser could have a shot at the 6th playoff spot, but there are a number of other teams that could be in that position as well.
The Bengals played pretty well against the Steelers the first time around. That gets lost because it was demoralizing and what followed was three consecutive 500-yard games given up by the defense. These Bengals/Steelers games are always hard fought and if Lewis can get the defense going the Bengals will have a chance. There is a lot of young talent that needed to learn what this rivalry was about. In typical Steelers style, they will likely be overconfident and be surprised if the Bengals come out strong.
This is a best-case scenario in which Lewis is able to rally the troops defensively and the Bengals are able to stay healthy. Even if the Bengals were to lose a game they shouldn’t to the Ravens, split with the Browns, and lose in Week 17 to the Steelers they would still come out of the season with an 8-8 record but would surely be out of the playoff picture.
The point is, the season is not lost. Winning the AFC North would likely get the team a 3rd seed. This would mean they play the 6th seed in the playoffs (which could very well mean a rematch of Week 17). If Lewis can get the defense to play at a respectable level, they will have a legitimate shot at playing Pittsburgh for the AFC North Championship in Week 17. Even if the unit continues to struggle, the Bengals’ remaining schedule will likely mean they finish at .500 or better.