Aug 24, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
The Cincinnati Bengals are 8-1 and lead the Pittsburgh Steelers by two-and-a-half games. Is Sunday’s matchup with the Arizona Cardinals a must-win?
Two weeks ago, Bengals skeptics claimed that Cincinnati had already wrapped up the AFC North, insinuating that every win from Week 10 and on would be meaningless until the Bengals can prove that they can win a playoff game. All of a sudden, with Monday night’s loss to the Texans, these same people are predicting that Sunday night’s matchup could be the Bengals’ second straight loss, giving the Steelers a chance to compete for the AFC North title.
Whatever people think about the Bengals, one thing seems to be for sure: virtually everyone thinks that Sunday night’s matchup with the Cardinals is a must-win scenario.
With that, I ask this simple question: Why is Sunday night such an important game for the Bengals? Is Cincinnati’s upcoming showdown in Arizona really a must-win game?
Cincinnati had a perfect chance to emphatically win back-to-back prime time games against beatable teams but split the two matchups, demolishing the Cleveland Browns and dropping a winnable home matchup against the Houston Texans.
In retrospective, winning back-to-back prime time matchups against bad teams wouldn’t have done that much for the Bengals. Skeptics would point to a weak schedule, the fact that both prime time games were played in Paul Brown Stadium and that for the Bengals, regular season games don’t matter anymore.
And while most of the blame from Cincinnati’s first loss will fall on Andy Dalton, he was far from the Bengals’ biggest liability on offense.
A.J. Green fumbled the ball on what could have been a game-winning drive, and Tyler Eifert dropped three catchable passes just a week after he caught two touchdowns in the Browns game. Green and Eifert had been very reliable in 2015 prior to Sunday–Eifert leads the NFL with nine touchdowns–but on Monday night, the duo couldn’t seem to accomplish anything.
And the Bengals didn’t just struggle on offense. Cincinnati’s coaching was subpar, players on both sides of the field drew several penalties and even the Bengals’ special teams struggled, giving the Texans great field position throughout Monday night’s game.
The Bengals’ defense, however, played a very good game and deserved to see a win. While it couldn’t force any turnovers, Cincinnati’s D held Houston to just ten points on a field goal and a spectacular touchdown catch that no one could do anything about. Cincinnati leads the NFL in scoring defense, so it must have been frustrating for the D to watch its offense struggle, especially given that the Bengals’ offense averages 26.1 points per game.
This week, the Bengals will take on a Cardinals team that leads the league in yardage offense and has the league’s third-ranked yardage defense. Cincinnati will need to be at its best to earn a win, especially given the Cardinals’ momentum after massacring the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday Night Football last week.
All of that being said, the Bengals would still be in good shape if they can’t get the job done at this Sunday. The Bengals will have at least eight wins in their first 10 games of 2015; even the most hopeful Bengals fans couldn’t have envisioned such an incredible start to the season.
But a 9-1 record just sounds that much sweeter. With a win, not only would the Bengals be able to maintain and/or extend their division lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers, they would also be able to maintain or extend their conference lead over the Denver Broncos, reeling in towards a potential first-round playoff bye.
A decisive win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football could do wonders for this team; analysts and fans around the country would finally be able to understand that this 2015 Bengals team is a legitimate contender, regardless of how Cincinnati has boded in the past. But while winning on Sunday night could do wonders for the Bengals, Cincinnati’s matchup with the Arizona Cardinals is not a must-win. The Bengals need to understand this–if Cincinnati can keep cool and collected against a red-hot Cardinals team, the Bengals could have a chance to come out victorious.