The Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets close out the 2009 NFL season tomorrow night in the Meadowlands, and the burning question in Bengaldom is: with a home Wild Card game locked in for the following weekend, should Cincinnati rest its starters?
Greg touched on the issue a few days ago. The only thing I have to add is that, at a lot of positions, it really doesn’t matter whether the Bengals would prefer to turn the keys over to the backups or not, because the backups are already playing.
For example, thanks to the loss of DE Antwan Odom, reserves Frostee Rucker and Michael Johnson have already seen increased playing time. Rucker has appeared in 11 games, and Johnson in all 15, this season and have combined for 22 tackles, 4 sacks, 7 passes defensed and an interception. The injury to Odom, as well as bumps and bruises suffered by DTs Tank Johnson and Domata Peko, have also led to increased time for DE/DT swingman Jonathan Fanene. So far in 2009, Fanene has registered career highs in starts (9), tackles (32), sacks (6) and recorded his first career pick, which he took 45 yards for a touchdown.
In similar vein, injuries in the secondary — most notably the loss of former Cowboy Roy Williams and Chris Crocker’s current battle with a gimpy ankle — have led to more time for rookies Morgan Trent and Tom Nelson. Nelson has made a pair of starts already this year, and got his first NFL pick against Detroit in week 13. Trent has appeared in all 15 contests, and has 25 tackles and 4 passes defensed.
And in the linebacking corps, our “backups” are guys like Brandon Johnson, who started for half of last year in place of the injured Keith Rivers, and Rashad Jeanty, who has 31 starts under his belt since 2006.
Over on the offensive side of the ball, about the only players the Bengals could insert who don’t have much experience are Jonathan Luigs, Jerome Simpson, Fui Vakapuna and Darius Hill, who was just elevated from the practice squad. Sure, they could sit Carson Palmer and Cedric Benson for J.T. O’Sullivan and Larry Johnson, but both of those guys are veterans — and really, given how mediocre-to-awful the offense has been, could it be that big a step down?
Bottom line: While I expect that Marvin Lewis will sit anyone who is the least bit banged up, the Jets are still going to see a lot of talent on the field Sunday night. My gut says the Jets win, but it isn’t going to be a walk in the park.