by Josh Kipnis
The Cincinnati Bengals have come a long way since the fallout of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco a year ago. Rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will surely be the future faces of this organization, but it seems they lack the firepower needed to make a final push towards the playoffs.
The Bengals could very well be one of the best six teams in the AFC, but when it comes down to it, it’s how you compare to the rest of your division, not the entire conference. And for the Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are steering the ship.
Going into Week 10, Cincinnati was tied atop the AFC North with a 6-2 record. That week, however, was the beginning of an uphill climb in their schedule. Losing back-to-back meetings against the Ravens and Steelers, the Bengals are now stranded on an island--third place in the toughest division in football. So with six games left in the season, can the Bengals win the North? A wild-card? I say No, and here’s why:
The remaining schedules for Pittsburgh and Baltimore allow them to waltz into the playoffs. Check out the final six games for each of these teams, along with my predictions.
Steelers (12-4) Ravens (13-3) Bengals (10-6)
@ Chiefs—W vs. 49ers—W vs. Browns—W
vs. Bengals—W @ Browns—W @ Steelers—L
vs. Browns—W vs. Colts—W vs. Texans—W
@ 49ers—L @ Chargers—W @ Rams—W
vs. Rams—W vs. Browns—W vs. Cardinals—W
@ Browns—W @ Bengals—W vs. Ravens—L
Steelers: In two weeks, the Steelers host the Bengals in a very decisive matchup. The way I see it, if Dalton couldn’t beat Pittsburgh in Cincy, it’s going to be that much harder for him to pull out the win with Terrible Towels waving in his face. As for their Week 15 matchup in San Francisco, I could really see this one going either way. Both defenses are tough against the run, which is why I have to give the edge to Pittsburgh--the team with more weapons in their passing game. Even if the 49ers pull this one out, the Steelers would finish 11-5 and hold the tiebreaker over Cincy.
Ravens: Roger Goodell is a family man. He has to be when you consider the Thursday night game this year: 49ers-Ravens with the Harbaugh brothers coming together for Turkey Day. But don’t expect them to mind their manners in front of Mom and Dad. This is a sure-fire food fight waiting to happen. The 49ers have to skip their Wednesday practice to fly across the country, giving them just 2 ½ days to prepare for their most difficult matchup this season. Jim Harbaugh forgets to leave room for dessert. The Ravens prevail.
Bengals: Hosting the Texans in Week 14, expect this game to go down to the wire. Houston is the best rushing attack in the league while Cincinnati is ranked 3rd in run defense. With Schaub out indefinitely, Houston becomes too one-dimensional and the Bengals come out on top. The way I see it, their only shot is to win out, beating the Ravens and Steelers in the process. Not happening. Andy Dalton and the rest of the offense are too inexperienced to beat two of the best defenses in the NFL. In the first eight games of the season, Dalton threw seven interceptions. In the past two weeks, against the higher profile players and coaches in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, Dalton has thrown five interceptions. This trend will surely continue.