This one’s for all the marbles.
If you were to read a Twitter timeline of Cincinnati Bengals fans, this Week 16 clash between the Who Dey-ians and The Miami Dolphins, you’d realize that the contest has major playoff implications. It’s just that those stakes are actually for the 2020 season and beyond, not this one of historical Queen City failure.
These two teams faced off last year with a much different storyline. Cincinnati was 3-1, coming off of a thrilling, last-second victory over the Falcons in Atlanta, while Miami was also 3-1 heading into Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals pulled off another thrilling win versus Miami, thanks to two big turnovers and set the table for yet another big clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6. Unfortunately, what ensued was just two more wins in the remaining 11 games of the 2018 season. Miami hit a similar skid, finishing just one game better than the Bengals at 7-9.
Both the Bengals and Dolphins have a different look and feel to them this year. A glut of core Miami players have been sold off the past couple of years in what many believe to be a “fire sale”.
Jarvis Landry, Kenyan Drake, Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills have all been shed from the team, as Miami has hoarded draft picks for a rebuild. They also let quarterback Ryan Tannehill leave in free agency, as the departure has worked out for both parties.
It’s also quite a different look for each squad on their sidelines. Both teams went with young, unproven commodities who were hot head coaching names on the market, in Brian Flores and Zac Taylor.
The hires have culminated in a combined four wins in a collective 28 attempts for both teams. While there have been some signs for long-term optimism under both watches, it’s been an inauspicious start to their respective NFL head coaching careers.
Not surprisingly, the matchup comprises two teams with very low-ranked units. Cincinnati’s offense (26th) is just slightly ahead of Miami’s (29th), while the 29th-ranked Bengals defense squares off against the Dolphins’ 30th-rated unit.
The Bengals haven’t scored more than 23 points in any game this season and are averaging just over 15 points scored per game under Taylor, the supposed offensive guru. Miami isn’t much more exciting, having scored 10 or fewer points four times this season.
Because of the draft positioning at stake, the cynic has images conjured up in their mind’s eye. “Turf Monsters” inexplicably tripping up players for would-be touchdowns, shanked field goal attempts and a parade of yellow flags are almost expected this Sunday.
After all, this is the “The Tua Tournament” and/or “Burrow Bowl” we are talking about, right? Jockeying for the Holy Grail that is the No. 1 overall pick is a shell game and the conspiracy theorists might be proven correct at 1 p.m. ET at Hard Rock Stadium.
Despite the vast amounts of ugly tape, things have been creeping in the right direction for both teams in recent weeks. For the Dolphins, their three wins have come in the past seven weeks and that aforementioned stretch of futility regarding points scored (or lack thereof) was in the first four games of the season.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati has had a win and three one-possession losses over the past six games, in which they’ve gone 1-5. Their defense is keeping the team in games (don’t let last week’s 34-point allowance to the Patriots fool you—the offense and special teams committed five turnovers, including a pick-six) and the run game has seen a big uptick since the Week 9 bye week.
In a lot ways, we may actually be in store for a fun and competitive game as the regular season nears its final curtain. While there may be tank jobs being talked about, these two teams need some positives to build upon in 2020, despite who will be under center.
Cincy Jungle’s Matt Minich recently spoke on the need for the Bengals to collect wins at the end of the year as a much-needed confidence-booster for long-term viability. It was met with fan vitriol, but there is wisdom in the notion.
Taylor, the players and guys like A.J. Green, who is seeking a new contract with the club next year, need to feel like things are moving in a positive direction, even if high picks are to be used on a rebuild project. The same could be said about Flores’ Dolphins, even after trading away high-profile talent.
The message in the locker room has still been about effort, production and win now. Professional coaches, especially in their first season, espousing the idea of losing games in hopes that things will be dreamy in a year or two, doesn’t seem realistic. Some of those guys hearing the message won’t even be around to see the corner being turned.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, it’s highly-likely that we’ll hear both Tagovailoa’s and Burrow’s names be called to these respective franchises next April. It’s also probable that both will have standout NFL careers to resurrect these teams out of the doldrums.
It’s just a matter of who gets who and with what pick. The determining factor on how next spring plays out will largely be decided on Sunday.
Do you trust the Bengals to do the right thing? And, what exactly do you consider to be “the right thing” in this scenario?
Bengals 21, Dolphins 19
AC—Losing the right way since ‘82.