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Tuesday Night Trenches: It’s getting late

The Bengals’ playoff hopes aren’t dead, but they are on life support.

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

It sounded like a dream scenario: the Cincinnati Bengals, riding a three-game winning streak, head to Pittsburgh to play a Steelers team that looked like it was coming apart at the seams, continuing their quest to make an unlikely run at the playoffs without their biggest star, Joe Burrow.

I was confident. The Steelers players were throwing each other under the bus, and the whole city seemed to be calling for Mike Tomlin’s head. They were without Kenny Pickett, just benched Mitch Trubisky, and they were walking Mason Rudolph out there without an offensive line.

In the end, the Bengals laid another egg against a division rival, making fans question just what the hell is going on.

Since it’s the holidays, here’s a very abridged version of TT:

  • I know what Jake Browning is. He’s a good backup NFL quarterback, and that’s an extremely valuable thing. If Joe Burrow gets hurt in Week 1 (or Week 12), is Browning going to take you to the playoffs? No. Will he lose the game for you if he has to come in? Also, no. If Burrow goes down for a game or two, and at this point, I think it’s safe to say that’s a possibility the Bengals need to prepare for, Browning can come in and keep the ship from running aground for a week or two until Burrow comes back.
  • It’s not just a bad game or a bad year against division opponents, it’s a much deeper issue than that. Over the last three years, the Bengals roster has been so much more talented than the Browns, Steelers, and Ravens, yet, outside a game or two, the Bengals barely beat a fellow AFC North team, or they lose and sometimes lose badly. I know the teams are familiar with each other, but it’s pretty clear that Zac Taylor and this current staff have issues with AFC North football. I don’t want the Bengals to be the Lloyd Carr or Ryan Day of the NFL, and if they want home playoff games, they have to win the division. I don’t know what needs to change, but something does.

The Bengals head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs, another team seemingly having some sort of crisis, and their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. The Chiefs have lost three of their last four games, and the offense hasn’t looked anything like they typically have in the Patrick Mahomes/Andy Reid era. Even Travis Kelce hasn’t quite looked like himself, almost like age is catching up with him. Or maybe it’s Taylor Swift? Who knows.

Here’s what I do know: if the Bengals don’t win on Sunday, they will not go to the NFL Playoffs. Their backs are officially against the wall, and they’re going to play a Chiefs team that has scored more than 20 points just once in the last four weeks. They’re desperate too. They want to prove they’re still a threat in the AFC, because right now, they look like a team that will get knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.

Who’s more desperate?

Here are a few more random thoughts on the Bengals Week 16 loss to the Steelers:

  • DJ Reader’s absence was obvious, and the whole defense was affected by it.
  • We all knew Tee Higgins was not just a No. 1 receiver but one of the best receivers in the league, but now everyone else knows, too. In his career in Cincinnati, he’s been behind AJ Green and Ja’Marr Chase, and when those guys were out, and the Bengals asked more of Higgins, he delivered every single time. I hope he’s on the roster next year, even if it’s on the tag, but Higgins is going to get paid one day, and he deserves every penny of it.
  • The Bengals' secondary is not good right now, but the young guys are getting some much-needed experience. Growing pains are to be expected. Hopefully they’ll be better for it next season.
  • I want to see more of Charlie Jones on the field.
  • I am very excited about Andrei Iosivas’ future, though. He looks like one of the steals of the draft.
  • That’s six games in a row with at least one sack from Trey Hendrickson. That’s 16 sacks on the season (18, per PFF). It’s sad to me that such a great performance takes place in what is likely going to become a lost year for the Bengals.

In summation, I don’t think it’s over, but I think the fat lady is warming up the pipes. The Bengals have won three of their last four, and Jake Browning has played well overall in that time. The Chiefs have lost three of their last four, and look like they’re unraveling. Sound familiar?

I hope the Bengals go up to Kansas City and beat the tar out of the Chiefs. I’d love nothing more than to see a whole army of bandwagon Chiefs Swifties talking about how much they hate the Bengals on TikTok.

The Bengals have been better against the Chiefs than they have the teams in their own division.

Who Dey.