Four years ago, the 3-5 Bengals won seven of its final eight games to make the playoffs. The streak started with a win over the New York Giants in Week 10.
On Nov. 4, 2012, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos came to Paul Brown Stadium. Denver was 4-3, the Bengals 3-4. Cincinnati fought to a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter on a BenJarvus Green-Ellis score, but two Manning touchdown tosses later in the period led the Broncos to a 31-23 victory.
That was the second of an 11-game winning streak for Denver to finish 13-3. But it left Cincinnati at 3-5. They were three games behind the 6-2 Ravens for the top spot in the division, two behind Pittsburgh for second.
What followed was an enormous run for the Bengals, starting in week 10 against the Giants. Cincinnati took it to the defending Super Bowl Champions in all facets of the game. Andy Dalton threw four touchdowns, the Bengals sacked Eli Manning four times and picked him off twice, leading to a 31-13 triumph.
The victory ended a four-game skid for Cincinnati and started a four-game winning streak. The Bengals outscored its next three opponents by 53 points.
After a one-point loss to Dallas — the last of the season– Cincinnati went on the road to beat Philadelphia (in primetime) and Pittsburgh, respectively, then capped off the regular season with a 23-17 over Baltimore’s backups to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs as a Wild Card.
Fast forward to 2016. The Bengals are once again a three-win club heading into a week 10 matchup with the G-Men. This time, however, the venues are switched and it’s a nationally televised contest.
Cincinnati is 1-0 this season on primetime, defeating the Dolphins at PBS on Sept. 29.
So, can the Bengals make a run?
The difference between 2012 and 2016
On top of different Presidential candidates, these two teams have changed a lot, too.
First off, the divisional race is wide open for the Bengals. They were three games back of the divisional lead in mid-November four years ago. Today, there’s a half-game difference between them and Baltimore for the top spot.
Four years ago, it would have taken a perfect 8-0 second half for Cincinnati to win the division. Today, the Bengals do not have to be anywhere near perfect to host a playoff game in January.
Monday marks a great opportunity for the Bengals to turn a disappointing season into a playoff run. The Giants are the NFL’s worst rushing offense and subsequently rank 21st against the pass after allowing Eagles’ rookie gunslinger Carson Wentz to throw for 364 yards in a losing effort on Sunday.
How they did it
The 2012 Bengals’ biggest turnaround was on Mike Zimmer’s unit. The defense rushed the passer accordingly and caused turnovers, yielding just 12.8 points per game over the 7-1 second-half stretch.
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In a playoff-clinching win in Pittsburgh in week 16, Leon Hall‘s pick-six was Cincinnati’s only touchdown while sacking Ben Roethlisberger four times for 35 yards. One week later, Carlos Dunlap‘s interception return touchdown led the Bengals to a win over Baltimore.
In addition, the offense was much more balanced. Dalton only threw for over 230 yards once in the final eight games, while Green-Ellis tallied four 100-yard outings.
2016 needs to see the same formula. The defense was the AFC’s best in scoring a year ago, but ranks 19th through eight games this year. Paul Guenther needs to get his defense in gear. If they can’t pressure Manning on Monday, he has the potential to pick you apart. Especially with his lethal cast of receivers, highlighted by Odell Beckham Jr. and ending with Victor Cruz and rookie Sterling Shephard
The rest of the schedule looks like a plethora of winnable games, although the Bengals play just one team (Cleveland) currently under. 500. Here are some positive stats to go along with each of Cincinnati’s remaining games:
@NYG: Marvin Lewis is 7-6 after a bye week (won two of last three).
vs. BUF: The Bills are riding a three-game losing streak, after losing in Seattle. Bengals have won its last three against the Bills.
@ BAL: The Bengals have won five in a row against John Harbaugh in the Ravens.
@ CLE: Cincinnati tallied 559 yards of total offense — most since 1990 — in their previous engagement with Cleveland, a 31-17 victory in week seven.
vs. PIT: The Steelers are currently on a three-game losing streak. Big Ben hasn’t been himself. It’s an SNF game that will surely draw a sell-out crowd in the Jungle.
@ HOU: It’s been a building of terror for the Bengals in recent years. But the Texans will be without J.J. Watt while Brock Osweiler is last in the NFL in passer rating. The last meeting in Houston was a 22-13 Bengals’ win where the defense allowed just two field goals.
vs. BAL: Could this be for the division title or a Wild Card spot? The Bengals have lost just once to Baltimore at home since 2009, and just twice since 2005.