Second major test of the year.
The next time that you see your Cincinnati Bengals, they'll be taking to the field with the grace and beauty of a swan but the voracity of a Bengals tiger, on NBC's Sunday Night Football. Epic. No, wait. Hashtag epic... damn it. #Epic.
Regardless of the symbolism -- aside from being cooped-up during a much-too-soon bye week -- the Bengals head to New England for a significant game against the Patriots that will undoubtedly hold major implications later this year -- conference record is a tie-breaker for the division and wild card. However, head-to-head is a tie-breaker for seeding and the difference between a bye week or wild card weekend. And we HATE wild card weekend.
The New England Patriots (who are scheduled to play the Monday Night game against the Chiefs) are an early 2.5-point favorite against the Bengals. Don't worry, Cincinnati is 3-0 against the spread this year... largely because they've won every game they've played.
Second major test? Have you already forgotten about Cincinnati's win IN Baltimore earlier this year? I know, it's hard to remember. I mean, with all of these other wins that the Bengals keep accumulating... at some point we'll forget about one or two.
The injured, now former injured
Cincinnati will have one of their top offensive weapons back from last year in Marvin Jones, who has been out since the preseason with a foot injury.
For two weeks, Jones has been doing pre-game wind-sprints and we can only imagine the amount of work he's gone through so that he's back in "football shape". Jones, who was third on the team in receptions (51) and second with 712 yards receiving, also finished second with 10 touchdowns last season.
Not only is Jones returning, along with backup running back Rex Burkhead (more like special teams contributor, IF he's even active), but linebacker Vontaze Burfict hopes to be ready for Sunday's game too. That of course, is a bit tricky. Concussions are out of the hands of players and coaches, left to independent neurologists and doctors... At least we're told that's how it works. It's not like the NFL offers much transparency or anything.
Andy Dalton vs. Tom Brady
No. You don't like it. Hell, I hate it. And no, they won't face off against each other. But there is a certain symphony that echoes these halls. Brady, one of the best all-time quarterbacks of our time (resist that if you want), is inching closer toward retirement. He's 37-years-old and clearly not as effective as he was, say five years ago.
What a fantastic opportunity for Dalton. Granted, if the Bengals win this Sunday the story will be about the Patriots' loss, rather than the Bengals win. They'll get their mention as being a 4-0 team, yada, yada, yada. However, it's also the redemption song that Dalton needs to play.The Bengals beat the Patriots last year but not before a national audience like Dalton will have this year. The same national audience that holds significant reservations about him... Well, like many Bengals fans too.
It boils down to this: Sunday is a national game against a major conference opponent... These are the type of games that Dalton has bombed into a plum of disaster. A win this Sunday will begin to scrub that filth off the walls.