Now, they’re coming out of the bye and have a huge test with an injury-riddled, but still dangerous, San Francisco 49ers team who have lost two straight games.
Here are a few matchups that could decide the outcome on Sunday afternoon.
Bengals safeties/linebackers vs. George Kittle
Kittle, while not one of the most productive tight ends in the league week in and week out, still is one of the absolute best tight ends in the league. He has the ability to stretch the field. He’s a mismatch with his size and speed for most linebackers and defensive backs. And he’s a great blocker.
Luckily, the Bengals defensive backs and linebackers aren’t just some dudes. Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson are probably the best duo of pass-coverage linebackers in the league. Combine that with the athleticism of Dax Hill and Nick Scott, as well as the veteran leadership of guys like Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie, the Bengals' secondary can keep Kittle in check.
That doesn’t mean he won’t get his, though. Kittle’s gonna Kittle sometimes, and there’s not a lot many defenses can do about it. Hopefully, if Kittle Kittles, it won’t be enough to make a huge impact on the game.
Bengals defensive line and linebackers vs. Christian McCaffrey
CMC is a great running back and a great receiver all wrapped up into one person. He’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry, he’s scoring an average of a little over a touchdown per game, and he’s caught two touchdowns in the last two games. He does it all.
Again, luckily, the Bengals have a guy named DJ Reader. Maybe you’ve heard of him? He’s just the best run-stuffing nose tackle in the league, and he’s coming off a game in which he was absolutely dominant. When it comes to running the ball, I have absolute faith in Reader and fellow interior tackle BJ Hill, as well as the ends Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson.
As far as passing goes, remember how I said Wilson and Pratt are among the best coverage linebackers in the league? They’ll be put to the test. They need to pay attention to CMC and Kittle. That will be a tall order for sure.
I think they’re up for it.
How about some offense?
Orlando Brown Jr. vs. Nick Bosa
Brown is nursing a groin injury, which is why he was off on Tuesday and only partially practiced on Wednesday. He says he’s going to play on Sunday, and hopefully, he will, because the left tackle will be dealing with one of the Bosa brothers, former Ohio State edge rushers who have found homes in California.
He only has three sacks on the season, but he’s been in the backfield all season long, with 14 QB hits and 18 hurries. Brown’s groin had better be ready to work.
That was a weird thing to say.
Trey Hendrickson vs. Trent Williams/Jaylon Moore
Williams is one of the best left tackles in the NFL, but he’s banged up and questionable to play on Sunday. It seems he’ll likely be a game-time decision. Moore is his backup and played fairly well in Week 7, allowing only one hurry against the Vikings.
Well, they’re not playing the Vikings this week. This week they have the Bengals, which means Hendrickson is coming for them, and he’s been embarrassing left tackles all season long on his way to eight sacks so far this season. He’s on pace to make a run at defensive MVP. Whoever plays quarterback on Sunday had better beware of Hendrickson, and if Williams isn’t 100 percent, lookout.
Momentum vs. league parity
The NFL is designed in a way that any team can rise and rule, even if just for a year. The teams share everything. It’s how they’ve been able to avoid the pitfalls the MLB fell into, where small-market teams are on the outside before the first pitch is ever thrown.
Of course, there have been dynasties, but it took the freak occurrence of Tom Brady being in the same time and space as Bill Belichick. That won’t happen again........ (Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid..... Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor ).
The Bengals are on a two-game win streak, and the Niners are on a two-game losing streak. This game is important for both teams, but probably more so for the Bengals. Momentum is absolutely a thing, and you’d think with momentum, the Bengals should coast to a win as the Niners crumble. But that’s now how it works. The NFL wants to be even. You have to be really, really good or really, really bad to win or lose three or more games in a row. We know the Niners aren’t really really bad. We know the Bengals are really, really good, or they should be.
Either way, hopefully, the momentum each team has built carries over into Sunday’s game and reveals itself in some way.