The Bengals dominated the New York Giants in Week 10, defeating them 31-13, but can they continue the success in their upcoming games?
The win over the Giants also marks the first time the Bengals, with quarterback Andy Dalton at the helm, have defeated a team bound for the playoffs or appeared there in 2011. The win also ended the four-game losing streak that marred the close of their season's first half.
It wasn't just that the Bengals beat the Giants, it was how they did it. It wasn't a close game, with the Bengals pulling ahead 14-0 in the first quarter. The margin between the two never fell below 11 points. In the 31-13 win, Dalton threw four touchdowns, a personal best, while Cincinnati's defense gave up just two field goals and a late-game touchdown.
The defense also outperformed their Giants counterparts. Difficult-to-sack New York quarterback Eli Manning was taken down four times, picked off twice and the Bengals forced him to fumble, scoring touchdowns on two of his turnovers. At the same time, the Bengals offensive line held up their end of the bargain. Dalton wasn't sacked once. As a result, he threw no interceptions for the first time this season.
Can the Bengals maintain this pace over the coming weeks? This win made multiple statements, to be sure: Their season isn't over, they've been underestimated coming out of those four losses, in the up-for-grabs AFC playoff picture the Bengals could make a legitimate postseason run.
But how much of that is a knee-jerk response to a huge win, and how much of it is for real?
Taking a look at Cincinnati's upcoming schedule, it's hard to imagine them suffering yet another multi-game collapse. This Sunday, they travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs who have only won one game this season (in advance of MNF), they host the three-win Oakland Raiders the week after and travel to face the San Diego Chargers in three weeks. After that stretch comes a home game against the four-win Dallas Cowboys, a visit to the Philadelphia Eagles (who may have rookie Nick Foles still under center in place of Michael Vick) before a difficult season-ending pair of games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
At the very least, the Bengals have a relatively easy go of things over the next three weeks. Generally, the Chiefs in Kansas City are a tough out, but that's not the case this year. They are yet to win a road game, have been outscored by 107 points and are on a five- (and after Monday night against the Steelers, potentially six) game losing streak. There are few teams worse.
One team that could compete with the Chiefs as the NFL's most disappointing squad is the Raiders. Aside from their surprise upset of the Steelers in Week 3, their only wins have come over the miserable Jacksonville Jaguars (in overtime) and the even-worse Chiefs. Over the past two weeks in particular, the Raiders defense has proven it cannot stop the pass nor the run, boding well for another Dalton performance similar to what he put up against the Giants.
The only wild-card team in this three-game stretch is the Chargers, though they presently are a sub-.500 team. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has been a mistake machine this year, with 15 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and he's taken 22 sacks. San Diego's schedule also makes things easier on the Bengals. In the two weeks before they meet Cincinnati, they face the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens and then the Steelers the week after the Bengals.
That's a tough series of games for any team to face, and the kind of wearing down they may suffer in that time could make it far easier for the Bengals to take advantage of weaknesses. Furthermore, San Diego's prowess against the run also works in the Bengals' favor—Cincinnati simply isn't running the ball all that much, or well.
Even the two NFC East games that follow the AFC West stand aren't all that scary. The Cowboys are a team somewhat on the rise, but the unreliable nature of their offense in particular and the division in general make it hard to tell which version of Dallas the Bengals will be seeing come December. The same can be said for the Eagles in the following week. At 3-6 presently, everyone's jobs are seemingly on the line and they've lost as many on the road as they have at home.
If the Bengals are supposedly as good at beating so-called "bad" teams as their records over the past season-and-a-half indicated, then they should be able to put together a string of wins. That's not to say their issues in the past four losses are behind them—Dalton still has issues when facing defensive pressure and his offensive line will have to continue to keep him well-protected to help minimize his mistakes.
Cincinnati would also be well-served to get their running game on better footing. There were glimpses of this against the Giants—BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a timeshare with Cedric Peerman, the former getting 15 carries to the latter's six. With the second half of the season bringing with it poor weather conditions, good running becomes even more highly valued. Peerman needs to continue to get a substantial number of carries and provide an alternative to Green-Ellis' more straightforward style of running.
There are a great deal of "ifs" surrounding the Bengals' ability to sustain the success they had against the Giants on Sunday, just as there were heading into Week 10. However, Cincinnati proved that it can turn things around and hand a substantial defeat to a very formidable opponent. The win gives them a tangible blueprint for continued success and their rather soft schedule only makes this a greater possibility.