The Cincinnati Bengals are back in the playoffs hunt. For the fans who thought that was impossible a few weeks back, it’s sweet revenge. It’s an ‘I told you so’ moment. But, for those who feel there’s more to the story, it’s the Halloween candy that mom has to search before you get to have fun. The Bengals took care of business in Denver, by beating the Broncos 20-17. But, the road to the postseason is just starting. It may have just looked like another clash of 3-6 teams, but the victory carried a ton of importance.
Posting the 20-17 score was fitting? When the Bengals last played in Denver, they lost to the Broncos by the same result. It was a late December game that was important to both teams’ playoff hopes. They were in the dance but playing for better seeding.
The overtime loss wasn’t a devastating blow, but it kept the Bengals from getting that coveted Bye Week to heal before playing again. This time, the spikes are on the other foot. Their Week 11 win tossed Cincinnati back into the hunt for a Wild Card berth. As they move into the final six games, it’s crucial to treat each contest as the last one on the schedule.
"“Somebody’s going to get hot and break away. We’ve got to just keep playing. Handle our business and understand the plan.”"
Power or timing?
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The Week 11 win was needed more than some fans may think. Going into the game, the talk around Cincinnati was centered around draft picks and positioning in the 2018 NFL Draft. But, with one W, the scenario has changed to who needs to win or lose to give the Bengals the help they need. Power rankings from all sources have moved the Bengals up at least five spots or more.
But, the Broncos are in a tailspin with head coach Vance Joseph looking like a candidate for replacement. So, was it all about the Bengals being better or the level of the competition? Was it the efficiency of Bill Lazor’s offense or the ineptitude of the Broncos defense? At this point, it really doesn’t matter. Lewis and the Bengals have to put together a sound plan to keep the momentum going and “stay hot.”
Don’t look ahead
If there was any time in the annals of Marvin Lewis pre or post-game speeches that need attention, this week is it.
With the winless Browns making a trip to Paul Brown Stadium, the focus has to be at a high level. Nothing would suit Hue Jackson and the Dawg fans better than an upset victory over a playoff happy rival.
Honestly, the Browns are not the team to look past. Cleveland played the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11 and held their own. The 19-7 final–in favor of the Jags–was just as close as the Bengals loss (23-7). Putting them on the list as an instant win isn’t going to do them any favors. Lewis and Co. have to look at each game in terms of it being a step closer to the playoffs.
Even though the mighty Steelers are looming in Week 12, there’s no reason to kick Cleveland to the curb. The Browns will be ready to stick an L on the Bengals to prove they still have some bite.
Time to fix the woes
If the Bengals manage to snare a Wild Card, they need to be ready. What that means is simple. The running game needs to be repaired ASAP.
Going deep into January takes a good line and even better ground attack. Lately, the Bengals O-line has held its own. They aren’t the model of consistency that they truly need. But, the play has become somewhat stable. One cause could be the scrapping of the line rotation. Andre Smith has been playing way above what he has been called upon to do. And isn’t that what this time of year is about?
The defense? As well as it played against Denver, it needs to be better. Paul Guenther’s men allowed the Broncos to convert 57.1 percent of their third downs. If there’s going to be more than a one-and-done appearance in the postseason, the D has to become relentless. Playing madman football and then letting a team convert on third is not acceptable.
It’s nice to be relevant again. But, there are still teams that need to be beaten. To be honest, the Bengals need to win out. With the AFC looking like a bunch of lost puppies, an 8-8 or 9-7 mark could get the job done. But, Cincinnati needs to show they deserve to be in the dance.