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Ditching second half expectations for the Bengals

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The Cincinnati Bengals start the second half against one of the best teams in the NFL. Whatever your expectations are, throw them away.

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How would you describe the season thus far?

Would you say the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals are an exciting bunch, securing comeback wins even when the most optimistic fan expected an inevitable loss? Are they playing a tune familiar with pessimistic expectations — losing against good teams, embarrassing themselves nationally, taking it on the chin against Pittsburgh? Have they been lucky or determined? Perhaps a combination of both. Let’s go with that.

This wasn’t a season meant to exceed expectations, yet at times, they have. The Bengals are 5-3 heading into the second half of the season. Andy Dalton is on pace to surpass 30 touchdowns for only the second time in his career; Joe Mixon is building a body of work that could rival some of the more dynamic backs in the NFL. Tyler Boyd has proven himself as a reliable threat. Jessie Bates has made folks forget that George Iloka was actually the starting safety only three months ago.

Naturally this doesn’t mean everything has gone according to plan; John Ross has been a ghost on-the-field, the offensive line could use more talent after this season, injuries have murdered the team’s momentum, while the Teryl Austin era has gotten off to a rough start. Plus, reliable defensive stars seem to be more hit-or-miss, Vontaze Burfict’s return was disappointing and we’re wondering if William Jackson is really good or if we elevated him too far, too fast?

Still, the Bengals won five games and are currently projected as the No. 6 seed if the season were to end right now (NOTE: Because the season will totally end for no apparent reason to accommodate postseason forecasts).

How will the second half of the season play out?

The Bengals come off a bye week against a New Orleans squad that recently dropped 45 on a top-10 ranked Rams defense, handing Los Angeles their first loss of the season. Cincinnati, sporting a defense that allowed 45 points to the highest-scoring offense in Kansas City, faces the second-highest scoring offense this Sunday.

How will that go?

“(The Saints) do a great job of putting pressure on in all areas, and they run the football effectively,” Marvin Lewis said on Wednesday. “They have a couple of great running backs in (Mark) Ingram and (Alvin) Kamara. The quarterback (Drew Brees) delivers the football to all areas of the field.”

The quarterback.

“Drew is going to go through his progression,” Lewis said, finally naming the quarterback by name. “The coverages you play obviously aren’t going to be anything that he hasn’t seen. (He will) try to work the football based on what they perceive is the weakness of the coverage and based on the development of the route.”

We’d like to say Cincinnati’s defense could handle it. Or at least challenge New Orleans. Mike Zimmer’s squad would have. Even a good day under Paul Guenther could keep us optimistic heading into the weekend. This defense, led by Teryl Austin...not so much. Though some are up for the challenge.

“Got another opportunity to play against the No. 1 team in the league,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “We’ve got to be able to show up. We can’t go out there and s*** down our pants.

“My message going into this is we sucked the last time we played against the No. 1 team in the league,” said Kirkpatrick, referencing the 45-10 loss at Kansas City. “Very disappointing, to the fans, to ourselves. We’ve got to play with more heart. I feel like this is a good opportunity. We definitely get another chance to redeem ourselves against the No. 1 contenders of the NFL. It’s going to be very exciting.”

Honorable. Even encouraging. However, Andy Dalton may have to score 50 if the Bengals want to be competitive this Sunday...

...without A.J. Green

OK, fine. John Ross. You’re up. Wait, haven’t we said that before?

“John (Ross) has done good things when he’s been out there and healthy,” said Lewis. “We just have to keep pressing forward, and the other guys have to continue to make plays when they get opportunities.”

Ross, the ninth overall pick from the 2017 NFL draft, has played eight of a possible 24 games in his career. A career with seven receptions for 79 yards receiving and two touchdowns, all accumulated during the first four weeks of this season. In fairness to him, he, like many others, has been hit by the injury bug.

There’s not many options at this point. That’s not a defeatist attitude; the pessimism of an old school Bengals fan broadcasting doom and gloom. It’s just reality right now. Tight end Tyler Eifert is done, and save for a handful of C.J. Uzomah plays, the tight end position is reconfiguring primarily as a blocking position. So it seems. Giovani Bernard, close to returning, has been out for several weeks. Mixon has missed time too.

“Like what I was saying with TB (Tyler Boyd), who’s playing with a lot of confidence. You try to get everybody to play that way,” quarterback Andy Dalton said on Wednesday. “Confidence is contagious. With the way he carries himself, how Joe Mixon carries himself and some of these other guys, it will rub off on everybody. You want to play fast and play your best, and that’s what we’re going to try to do with everybody we’ve got out there.”

They need it.

If folks are optimistically pulling for postseason run during the second half of the season, the Bengals will have to stifle New Orleans (they won’t), then knock out the sliding Ravens in Baltimore (they may), and face quality opponents in the Chargers and Steelers — both away games. On the other hand, both Browns games remain, along with the Raiders, and Broncos.

Nine wins could happen. Will that be enough? Can’t the season end right now?!

Expectations though.

We can’t have them.

Lose all of your assumptions too.

The 2018 Cincinnati Bengals have defied conventions this year. For example, they really are 5-3 thanks to spirited comeback wins. Their motivation is refreshing and fight is contagious. You know they want to win. You’re not really questioning that. Sometimes their opponent is too much, like Kansas City, or sometimes they fall short, like against Carolina. You know the spirit is there at least. That’s encouraging.

The question is, will it transfer into the second half of the season? Is “fighting” enough? Have they lost too much talent to injuries? Have opposing teams caught onto Bill Lazor’s offense? Will the defense ever defense?

No matter how it plays out, we’ll watch.

That’s what we do.