Bengals Draft Pick Watch: The Deciding Weekend
The Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs play for the fifth time in six years Sunday. These AFC Midwest Division foes are knotted at 2-2 over the previous four games, with the Bengals famously defeating the 9-0 Chiefs in 2003 and again on opening day 2006. The Chiefs in turn trashed a 2005 Bengals team that was resting its starters ahead of the playoffs, and also won the most recent engagement in week 6 last season. Whoever wins tomorrow, the loser will have a chance to even the score in 2009, when the Chiefs and Bengals will clash yet again at Paul Brown Stadium as the standard NFL schedule rotation pits the AFC North against the AFC West.
Barring a dramatic trade-down in next April’s draft, that 2009 meeting will feature two of the year’s top draft selections. The Chiefs go into the weekend tied with the Rams for the second pick, and are guaranteed to pick no lower than third. The Bengals head into the game holding the fourth overall pick, and are assured of drafting no lower than seventh.
If Cincinnati loses, they select fourth. If they win, how far they slip depends on the results of three other games. Here’s the standings, followed by a look at the key remaining games:
Kansas City Chiefs @ Cincinnati Bengals. Both teams continue to play hard despite poor records, a testament to the coaching of both Marvin Lewis and Herm Edwards. Kansas City has been able to put up points with third-stringer Tyler Thigpen at QB, but their defense has struggled to stop, well, anybody. In their last two games, the Chiefs have scored 52, but allowed 60. Kansas City’s D ranks 30th against both the pass and the run, and is allowing more than 7 yards a pass, and 5 yards a rush, on average. The passing game is below average but serviceable, while the strength of the offense remains the Larry Johnson-led running game. Former Chanticleer Thigpen is also a threat on the ground, with 383 rushing yards and 3 TDs.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, has struggled to score on, well, just about anybody. Under QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bengals haven’t scored more than 21 in a game. Last week against a Cleveland squad clearly just playing out the string, the Bengals offense managed just 7 points. Their other 7 came on an interception return for a touchdown. The Bengals’ defense has been stouter than usual, ranking 21st at the moment, including a 12th-place ranking in yards per rushing attempt allowed, 3.5. But as Bengals fans have seen all season, the D will wear down by the second half if the offense can’t stay on the field and put up some points. Earlier in the year, I was afraid the Chiefs would have quit by now, allowing the Bengals to end the season with a three-game sweep, but the Bengals’ inability to score (and note that even under Carson Palmer’s leadership their high was 23 points) makes it likely the Bengals will settle comfortably into the fourth pick by about 4 p.m. eastern Sunday.
Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals. If the Bengals do win, this appears to be the most likely game to prevent them from falling all the way to seven. Seattle blew a hole in the New York Jets’ playoff hopes last weekend, shooting them down 13-3, while Arizona traveled to New England and got embarrassed 47-7. With a playoff berth assured, the Cardinals appear to have backed off, while the Seahawks have a chance to end a lousy season with a three-game winning streak, including victories over two playoff (or playoff hopeful) squads.
Oakland Raiders @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oakland showed some unexpected (at least by me) life last weekend, topping the Texans 27-16. Tampa Bay got blown out by the Chargers 41-24, but still control their own destiny in the playoffs. Win and they are in; lose and they need help. While Oakland is hardly a powerhouse, the Bucs have lost their last three, giving up 92 points in the process, while scoring 57. Comparable numbers for the Raiders over their last three are 99 points allowed and 60 scored. So these are surprisingly equal squads at the moment, despite the fact one is 9-6 and the other 4-11. And the Raiders would no doubt relish playing spoiler.
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland is a train wreck and will be on their fourth starting QB of the season. Pittsburgh is the AFC North champion and promises to play its starters. This one could be as ugly as last week’s Patriots – Cardinals tilt. If the Bengals win and the Browns lose, the Bengals will finish third and the Browns fourth in the AFCN.