The Cincinnati Bengals are sitting on a 5-5 record. However, the once-difficult schedule now shows four straight teams below .500 ahead of them. They have won two straight games by a margin of 59-19, and are looking to defeat their former quarterback tomorrow afternoon. In the wake of Carson Palmer’s return, I present to you five reasons why the Bengals will make the playoffs this year.
Reason #1: Andy Dalton
The “Red Rifle” has finally found his sophomore stride. In the last two games, he has thrown six touchdown passes in comparison with no interceptions. That’s a stat that stands out after he threw at least one interception in every other game this season.
Even more, he had a renewed accuracy. Dalton is staying behind his protection longer, letting plays develop, and is finding the open man. Look for him to continue finding his targets in the secondary, and to maintain a higher yards-per-play statistic.
Reason #2: A.J. Green
As an announcer said last game, “Maybe they should change the red zone to the green zone.” Because A.J. has certainly been productive in that area of the field.
He leads the NFL in touchdown receptions and has managed at least one in nine straight games. Green leads his team with 911 yards on another team-leading 64 catches. Throw him the deep ball, give him the jet-sweep, or hit him on a quick slant—The guy can do pretty much everything. He continues to be efficient under the watch of double-coverage and adds his dangerous abilities in space and after the catch.
What record do you think the Cincinnati Bengals will end the regular season with?
Reason #3: The Running Game
Yes, the running game has looked horrible for most of the season. The Law Firm has stayed around a pedestrian 3.4 yards-per-carry, and after Bernard Scott was injured, things seemed to be going even further downhill.
However, in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis finally broke the 100-yard rushing mark in a game. Combined with Cedric Peerman, the Cincinnati Bengals broke out for a season-high 189 yards on the ground. I look to see another solid performance by both running backs against a soft Oakland defense, and this could be the match-up that propels the ground game for the season’s final stretch.
Reason #4: The Defense
For much of the 2012 season, opposing offenses were able to prey on one of Cincinnati’s weakest links: the pass defense. In fact, it seemed almost impossible that much of the same group could have been ranked seventh last season.
The Cincinnati defense is finally getting healthy, though. Two weeks ago, they forced four total turnovers against the New York Giants and held Eli Manning to just 215 yards. Then they limited Kansas City Chiefs' star running back Jamaal Charles to under the century mark. That’s a feat in itself.
The front four has always been dangerous, but as the secondary is finding its groove, the numbers are starting to reflect the defensive rankings that we remember so well from last year.
Reason #5: Momentum
There are many things that contribute to winning football. Talented skill players. Keeping mistakes to a minimum. Solid coaching. And perhaps the most over-looked area: momentum.
The Cincinnati Bengals have plenty of it right now.
A lot of things happen when a team gets hot. The mentality of the players is affected, and the confidence becomes much more tangible on every play. It defines the consistency that teams need in order to build extended winning streaks in the NFL. I look for the Bengals to use the momentum they have right now to continue the streak they find themselves on.
All the way to the playoffs.