At 9-4 and riding a five-game win streak, the Cincinnati Bengals are in charge of their destiny. They are nearly guaranteed to have a playoff spot and one has to think that only one or two wins will clinch a postseason berth, and that's very plausible with their upcoming schedule. It isn't easy by any means, in fact, all of these teams will (or at least have a solid chance to) be playing well into January, but you can make the argument that the Bengals are truly better than three or even all four of their remaining opponents.
This week, they fly into Florida for a match against the Buccaneers. Despite being under .500 (6-7), Tampa Bay plays in such a weak division that, as it stands right now, they'd find themselves in the playoffs if the season ended. Like for Cincinnati, the Bucs are another team that'll likely be playing postseason football with just one or two more wins.
The Bucs are also probably the easiest remaining opponent the Bengals have left on their schedule -- a schedule that includes the Patriots, Bills, and Ravens -- so it's really no surprise that the Bengals are favored by 3.5 points despite being the visiting team. Though even with their less-than-impressive record, I wouldn't sleep on the Buccaneers. They've got a Top-10 defense and Tom Brady has shown, even if he's starting to show his age, that he can still lead clutch drives.
With that out of the way, let's look at some bold predictions I have for this matchup.
Burrow and Brady have a good, ol' fashioned shootout
If you haven't been following the Buccaneers, this might not sound like a bold prediction, but I assure you, it is. While Joe Burrow has been at the top of his game since the playoff push got underway, Brady has been having one of the worst years of his career, easily the worst since he's been in Tampa and arguably worse than his last season in New England.
So, why would I predict him to keep up with Burrow? And why would I predict Burrow to have another great game against a top-10 defense?
Well, for starters, I'm going to piggyback off of something our own Leigh Oleszczak wrote in her article about predicting the Bengals' final games. In Leigh's article, she states, "This is the time of year where Tom Brady really gets things going and puts his team on his back.", and that's the reason I believe Brady will have a big game against a Cincy defense that hasn't allowed a lot of those as of late.
As for Burrow, he's proven he can play well against good defenses and especially in the face of pressure over the last five games. In terms of sacks and pressure %, the Chiefs have a top-5 defensive line, and Joey Franchise still put up 300+ total yards, three total touchdowns, and completed 80% of his passes. After this past game against Cleveland was mostly focused on defense, I think we're about to witness an offensive shootout.
Joe Mixon tops 100+ yards rushing and notches 2 all-purpose touchdowns
After missing two and a half games after suffering a concussion, Joe Mixon had a nice return vs. Cleveland this past Sunday and looked like RB1 again, rushing for 96 yards on 14 carries (averaging 6.86 per carry) and getting 10 more yards on two catches to give him over 100 yards total on the day. He didn't get into the end zone, but his efforts helped lead a couple of scoring drives and run the clock down.
This week, I believe he'll find himself scoring twice to make up for not getting a touchdown in his return last week, as well as go over 100 yards against a solid Bucs' defense that is surprisingly weak against the run (20th in rushing yards allowed/game).
In Mixon's last full game that he started and finished before his return last week, he had the best game of his career, finding the end zone five times and finishing with over 200 all-purpose yards. Then, after getting injured midway through the second quarter against Pittsburgh, Mixon comes back and nearly goes over 100 yards rushing again.
To me, it seems Mixon is finding his stride just as the offensive line is and I think he'll have a good end to the season after struggling to start the 2022 campaign.
No turnovers for either team
If there's one thing these two offenses are both good at it's taking care of the ball. The Bengals have just 13 turnovers on the season, 11 of them coming against AFC North opponents, and the Buccaneers are right behind them with just 14 on the year, which is good for second and third least in the league respectively (excluding ties with other teams).
While they both boast great defenses as well (Tampa - 9th, Cincinnati - 11th), I think both will have trouble taking the ball against these offenses that tend to keep possession until they either score or punt. I don't think either side will have turned the ball over once the clock hits triple zeroes, even if these defenses are borderline elite at times.
On the year, I'm 2/6 on bold predictions so, hopefully, I get more than one right this time.
Do you have any bold predictions for this matchup against Tampa Bay?