Broncos vs Bengals: Week 9 Matchup Will Make or Break Cincinnati's Season

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Broncos vs Bengals: Week 9 Matchup Will Make or Break Cincinnati's Season
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The Bengals must scratch out a win against the streaking Broncos to keep playoff hopes realistic.

The Cincinnati Bengals need to decide what type of team they are going to be in 2012 in Week 9's pivotal home showdown with the Denver Broncos. A win will put Marvin Lewis' group on course for its second postseason appearance in a row, while a loss to drop to 3-5 will break the season.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden hasn't been able to orchestrate the same magic that took the Bengals from preseason power ranking cellar dweller to playoff team in 2011. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer hasn't been able to turn a marginal group of personnel into a top-flight unit as he has routinely done in his time in Cincinnati.

Apparently, the decision about what type of team to be has been reached by at least one Bengal in linebacker Manny Lawson, who made a bold declaration on Friday:

 

As NFL.com's Albert Breer reported in training camp, the Bengals were walking around with "DNO" shirts, the acronym that signified "Destination: New Orleans."

Talk about aiming high. But with the team sinking on a current three-game losing streak, the Week 8 bye couldn't have come at a better time. Any extra time to prepare for the likes of Peyton Manning is crucial, particularly considering Peyton's track record against the Bengals.

Check these career numbers out vs. Cincinnati (h/t PeytonManning18.com):

W-L Record 7-0
Comp-Att 154-235
Comp. Pct. 65.5%
Yards Per Game 261
TD-INT 17-3
Passer Rating 107.8

Talk about a nightmare matchup. No matter who has been in charge of the defense in Cincinnati, Manning has found a way to win every single time.

No one had been able to shut down stud receiver A.J. Green in 2012, until the Steelers held him to one catch for eight yards—a touchdown, at least—in the Bengals' most recent showing.

As hot as second-year QB Andy Dalton started out of the gates, it seems that he has come crashing back to earth. It's even possible that he's mired in a bit of a sophomore slump.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The Red Rifle has been a bit too reckless with the pigskin in 2012.

Dalton must take better care of the football, as he is tied for third in the league with 10 interceptions. He must capitalize on the fact that Tracy Porter will be absent from the Broncos secondary, and he and Green must bounce back from a disastrous game in Pittsburgh.

For a team that wildly exceeded expectations not long ago, the Bengals are looking more and more like they simply benefited from an easy schedule to sneak into the playoffs last year. Thus, they are not yet built to rise to the occasion and take the "next step."

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Whatever that cliche means is dynamic among different NFL franchises, but in Cincinnati—inside and outside of the locker room—that "next step" was meant to be something like "Super Bowl contender."

The narrative at the halfway point has been far from that, particularly in the past month. And the road doesn't get any easier from here. The only bad team the Bengals face is the Kansas City Chiefs, but every other team is still squarely in playoff contention.

This week's outcome will make or break just how involved the Bengals will be in that "playoff contention" conversation.

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