In a five-game stretch of sub-.500 opponents, the Cincinnati Bengals have impressed so far. Coming off of their demolition of the New York Giants, the running game picked apart the Kansas City Chiefs and then had an exceptional encore performance against the Raiders. The defense has been stronger than it has looked all year long, and the passing game has become significantly more effective.
Andy Dalton has led that offensive charge while throwing nine touchdown passes in comparison with no interceptions in their three-game winning streak. That brings his total to 23 touchdowns with just eleven interceptions. Yesterday was the first time in 10 weeks that A.J Green didn’t catch one of those “Red Rifle” touchdowns, but Mohamed Sanu made up for the change, grabbing two to his name against the Oakland Raiders.
Another impressive statistic is the turnover margin. After forcing four turnovers against Eli Manning and the Giants, the defense has created at least one fumble and an interception in each of the last two games. That comes at a time when the Bengals are protecting the ball more than ever, and they are winning games because of it.
Coming off of the last three wins, the Bengals will look to improve their streak to four, five and perhaps six as they face their next three contests against the San Diego Chargers, home for the Dallas Cowboys and then at the Philadelphia Eagles. Let’s look at what to watch for in that stretch and what to expect.
First, they travel to the West Coast to battle the Chargers. This should be an entertaining contest to say the least. The Chargers proved their worth on defense Sunday, as it took a Ray Rice miracle for the Ravens to come away without a loss. They only allowed 13 points in regulation against a team that scored 55 last week against the Raiders.
That being said, I expect the Cincinnati Bengals to ride their hot streak and add another win. The Chargers have been an up-and-down team this year, and I think after their loss against Baltimore, they won’t have enough to play for in order to win. Cincinnati has its season at stake in this game, and it won’t disappoint the fans back home.
Prediction: Bengals 23, Chargers 17
Next on the schedule will be the Dallas Cowboys. This is a team that needed overtime to beat the lowly Cleveland Browns and then looked pitiful in the first half against Washington. Still, that second half on Thanksgiving Day proved that they can definitely score points at a fast pace when they need to.
This will not be a low-scoring game, and I think the winner will be decided by whose defense plays better. Both the teams will have things to play for, but I expect the Bengals to stay hot enough to be included in the win column this week.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Cowboys 23
Last on the three-game stretch are the Philadelphia Eagles. A team that entered the season riding on high hopes, but now appear to be near anything but the playoffs. Michael Vick is still injured via the concussion, and Nick Foles simply hasn’t had enough time to develop chemistry with the offense. No matter which quarterback plays, look for the Bengals to win the turnover margin, score more points and come away with the easy win.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Eagles 14
Potentially, the Cincinnati Bengals could find themselves at a 9-5 record entering the final two games of the regular season. Those two games are the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field and the Baltimore Ravens at home. The Ravens seem to be on their way to easily clinching the AFC North, and the Indianapolis Colts are still churning out wins in a close wild-card race. Therefore, that meeting with the Steelers in Week 16 could end up being a win-and-in playoff game of sorts depending on how things unfold down the stretch.
The main problem with the Cincinnati Bengals’ playoff hopes are that they will lose most tiebreakers. They are clearly behind the Steelers and Colts in AFC wins right now, and this is what will likely decide who plays in January if all three teams find themselves at a 9-7, or even a 10-6 record.
Which means that the Bengals will probably need to beat at least one of the two AFC North elites if they look to continue a playoff path this season. If they beat one (whichever it is), they will likely be sitting at a 10-6 record. The probability that the Bengals, Steelers and Colts all get to 10-6 is statistically unlikely, given their schedules. This could bode well for a Cincinnati playoff berth.
It’s not too early to consider the fact that Baltimore will rest its starters during the season final, but it’s not something Bengals fans should rely on. Especially given the race between the Ravens, Patriots, Broncos and Texans is expected by many to go down to the wire for the coveted playoff bye weeks.
Regardless of this, the Bengals need to make sure they take care of the business they can.
And Cincinnati fans might be in for quite a second-half ride.
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