Congratulations to the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals for winning the AFC North divisional title. This marks the second time this decade the Bengals have accomplished this feat and extended their January playing schedule.
With one game left in the season, a nationally televised Sunday Night game in the Meadowlands, a big debate now rages: who should play?
Most old-school, die-hard NFL fans are quick to quote Herm Edwards in pointing out that, “you play…to win…the game!” Therefore, you play sixteen games, you fight to win as many of those as possible.
To that end, logic would dictate the first stringers take the field Sunday night and play as if a playoff berth was at stake.
Now to quote another infamous coach, “Playoffs? You’re talking playoffs? Playoffs?”
Yes, Jim Mora, playoffs.
However, there are arguable reasons to maybe not do that.
-Rey Maualuga. The rookie linebacker has had a solid, if not spectacular, season in his debutting campaign. He hasn’t stood out, but he’s been a solid part of a vastly improved defense that has, in fact, made this run possible. Sunday against the Chiefs, he broke his ankle and will not taste playoff action.
-Carson Palmer. It is indisputable this has been the worst season for Palmer playing a full season, both statistically and practically. Granted, he has demonstrated flashes of leadership and brilliance by engineering comeback victories early in the season. However, perhaps a week off will allow him time to clear his head and perhaps rest the elbow that is still questionable in terms of recovery.
-Cedric Benson. Benson has missed time this season due to leg injury. He opened the second half of the Chiefs game with a big run, but came up noticeably twinged in his leg. He most likely was rushed back into action to protect his spot from Larry Johnson, as well as to give the Bengals more teeth in the running game that has carried this offense. One more week of rest couldn’t hurt him for what fans hope will be a deep playoff run.
-Mental rest. The Bengals, despite the on-field success, have dealt with a great deal of tragedy in the form of the loss of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s wife and then teammate Chris Henry. Having just buried Henry last week, the first stringers could use the week to mature in the grieving process and heal.
The counterarguments to resting the starters are solid as well. This team has developed bad habits as the season has worn on. Penalties have plagued the offense. The passing game, save the Chargers game, has been non-existent. The offensive unit in particular could use all the snaps it can get.
However, this unit has played fifteen games and are regressing in these areas. Can it be of such a benefit to the offense to play three or four more quarters when questions of potential injuries always exist? Will one more game shape up the team so much that it is worth risking injury to Palmer, Ochocinco, Benson or a key lineman?
And let’s not forget the Steelers factor. A Jets victory all but insures the Steelers get to watch the playoffs from home, not to mention erasing the possibility of the Bengals facing them a third time in the Wildcard Game.
I would never suggest tanking a game just to screw the Steelers. One has to admit, however, the possibility is certainly intriguing.
It is certainly an interesting debate. Time will tell what Marvin Lewis decides come Sunday.