Atlanta, Cleveland and Carolina. Three games in the middle of a schedule. And three games that could mean everything to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Those three games stretch, I think, will determine how our season goes,” Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow said recently. “We haven’t talked about it. We’ve been focused on Atlanta and getting this one, and then we’ll move on to the next one after that.”
Well, the Bengals got that one, by a score of 35-17 as Burrow turned in by far his best performance of the season. Now, it’s on to Cleveland and a Halloween Monday night matchup in the Dog Pound.
The win improved Cincinnati’s record to 4-3 and was the first of four very winnable games on the schedule. After Cleveland, the Bengals take on a Panthers squad that just upset Tampa Bay, with a chance to go into their bye week at 6-3.
Of course, last year at this point the Bengals stood at 5-2 before blowing a fourth-quarter lead against the Jets and getting drilled by the Browns, 41-16, at Paycor.
“You want to feel great heading into the bye week,” Burrow said. We were 5-4 heading into the bye last year, obviously hoping to get these three wins to go 6-3. Two straight losses by a lot. It was horrible.
“That bye week, you want to enjoy. So 6-3 just sounds a lot better than 5-4. When you’re sitting on your couch thinking about how your season has gone so far, 6-3 sounds a lot better. “
The odds are certainly in their favor. Cincinnati went in as a 6-point favorite against the Falcons, and won by 18. The Bengals opened as a 2.5- to 3-point at the Browns, but those odds are all the way up to six points after Sunday’s games.
Cincinnati has the clear edge in the passing game. Burrow has completed 152 of his 228 passes for 1,616 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions (four of which occurred in the first game). Cleveland’s Jacoby Brissett is 124 of 206 for 1,326 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions.
Ja’Marr Chase leads the Bengals with 39 receptions for 475 yards and four touchdowns, while the Browns are led by Amari Cooper with 31 catches for 348 yards and four scores.
Cleveland’s ground attack is spearheaded by Nick Chubb with 110 rushes for 649 yards (an average of 5.9 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. Joe Mixon is still waiting to get untracked and has only 347 yards on 104 carries and two scores.
The Bengals are 8.5 point favorites at home against the Panthers the following week, despite the fact that Carolina pulled out an improbable win against the Buccaneers Sunday.
The Panthers just unloaded their leading running back, Christian McCaffrey, while their starting quarterback, Baker Mayfield, is out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain.
None of that seemed to bother Carolina against Tampa Bay as third-string quarterback P.J. Walker stepped up to complete 16 of 22 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns, and running back D’Onta Foreman exploded for 118 yards on 15 carries, with a long of 60.
When they come back from the break, the Bengals also figure to be favorites on the road against Pittsburgh, and the line is currently at 2.5 points.
The Steelers are struggling mightily on offense, with rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett completing 55 of 83 passes for 514 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions, including three in the loss to Miami Sunday. Pittsburgh has failed to reach the 100-yard rushing mark over the last three games, with Najee Harris having rushed for only 264 yards on 83 carries with one touchdown.
The table is set for the Bengals to go into the bye week with a record of 6-3, and to move quickly to 7-3. With the next two games listed as “pick-ems,” things are looking up for the defending AFC champs.