There are always a handful of games in a season that have a much larger impact than others, especially as the playoffs approach.
Here, we’ll take a look at three games on Cincinnati’s schedule that carry significantly more weight than any of the others.
The first is Week 2, when the Bengals play host to the divisional rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night prime time football.
The Bengals have had a streak of underperforming in the spotlight. I needn’t remind fans of last year’s start to the season in Baltimore. A home game, this will be an early contest to see how Cincinnati matches up against one of it’s fiercest rivals.
A win could also provide a crucial momentum advantage to a Bengals team facing a fairly difficult schedule in the first five weeks. One that includes games against Super Bowl contenders, Green Bay and New England.
Speaking of which, you may find it curious that neither of those tough games makes my list of the Bengals’ most important three games. This is partly because of the timing in the season, and partly because they aren’t games that have a large chance of determining whether the Bengals make the playoffs. Not as much, anyways.
Instead, I’ll focus on games that are the most difficult to predict; those that could more easily go either way.
My second game comes in Week 14, when the hyped Indianapolis Colts make a trip to PBS to face Cincinnati. This game will determine how the Bengals match up against another young playoff team that is in the midst of taking large strides with their star quarterback.
Lastly, the third game is none other than the season finale. The Ravens will make the trip to Cincinnati in a game that might be significant enough to decide the AFC North. Last year’s game between the two at the end of the season was met by rested starters as the game didn’t matter much to either team, although the Bengals won. This year, we’ll see if Cincinnati can prevail in a must-win game against the very team that embarrassed them in the 2012 opener.
The difference between a Wild Card berth and a division crown is huge in the modern era of football, and securing the latter will be crucial if Cincinnati wants to end it’s drought of years without a win in the playoffs.