Bengals vs Eagles: Full Preview, Predictions & Analysis for Thursday Night
Only one team is playing for its playoff future on Thursday Night Football, but the Philadelphia Eagles are playing for much more as they host the Cincinnati Bengals and try to bring this team back from the brink of a total housecleaning.
The Bengals (7-6) have turned their season around since a loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 9 that left them 3-5. Since then, the Bengals are 4-1 and in the driver's seat for a wild-card spot if they can take care of business for the rest of the season. Then again, if the Bengals don't beat the easily beatable opponents, it could be Marvin Lewis whose job is on the line this offseason.
The Eagles (4-9) have come apart at the seams, and as coach after coach is let go, the seat of head coach Andy Reid gets hotter and hotter by the day. Can Nick Foles cool it off with a fantastic end of the season? Feasibly, yes.
It will be interesting to see how probable that hope is for the Eagles faithful. After Cincinnati, it's Washington and the Giants on tap. The end of the season could be awfully embarrassing if the Eagles aren't at their best.
So, which of these teams comes out on top on Thursday night?
Key Storyline No. 1: Are the Bengals Ready for Prime Time?
The Bengals have been good, but not great, this season, which has pretty much been their M.O. for as long as most of my readers have watched football. While Cris Collinsworth and Anthony Munoz aren't walking through that door, the Bengals have more talent than they've shown on the field.
Losses to the Browns and Dolphins earlier this season call coaching into question, and a loss to the Eagles would likely do the same.
The offense has no excuse not being one of the top units in the NFL, and the defense, while consistently underrated, is probably a year or two away from being able to carry a team like the top guns in the AFC North.
Going on the road for Thursday Night Football is not an easy task. If Marvin Lewis and his staff don't have this team ready, it will be another embarrassment and make this decade-long rebuilding plan last even further into the future.
Key Storyline No. 2: Can Andy Reid Save His Job?
Note: That subheadline doesn't say should he be able to save his job. Reid probably should have been gone a few years ago and certainly has lost this team in a way that can hardly be quantified unless one watches the sad trombone-accompanied antics week in and week out.
Honestly, like Norv Turner in San Diego, the game looks like it has passed Reid by, and personnel issues have left him completely unequipped to win football games.
Still, as mentioned above, Reid is in "ride or die" mode with Foles right now. He's given up his stubborn attempts to salvage Mike Vick's career and is hoping that Foles can win out the season and put his team back on the right track.
As exciting as that might be for Eagles fans, that could be the worst possible situation for them long-term.
Keys for the Cincinnati Bengals
If the Bengals want to win this game, they need to put the pedal to the metal and keep both hands on the wheel.
Who wins on Thursday night?
If the analogy wasn't clear, the Bengals aren't going to win this game by managing the offense down the field and keeping the score low. The Eagles can't stop A.J. Green and won't be able to put consistent pressure on Andy Dalton if the Bengals' underrated offensive line does its job.
By taking shots and running up the score, the Bengals will make more mistakes, yes, but as long as they "keep both hands on the wheel" and don't lose total control of the game, they should be able to force the Eagles into plenty of mistakes of their own.
Defensively, Geno Atkins is going to be a huge part of the Bengals' success. The Eagles' interior offensive line has been terrible this season, and Atkins has been one of the best players in all of football. Foles won't have success if he never has a pocket to set up in.
Keys for the Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have done a better job running the ball with Bryce Brown in the backfield, and that needs to continue. Ball security isn't going to stop being an issue, but it isn't like the passing game is built to protect the ball, either. Running the ball will keep Atkins from tearing Foles apart, and that should be mission No. 1 on Thursday night.
If they're going to pass, they need to eschew the downfield stuff almost entirely. It is crazy to expect a five- or seven-step drop to come out cleanly when that Bengals pass rush has been so good.
On defense, the Eagles are scrapping the wide nine, but it wouldn't be crazy to show that look every so often, just to keep the Bengals line on its toes. Getting to Dalton isn't going to be easy, but if you can pressure him, he tends to fold more quickly than not. The Eagles defensive backs aren't going to stick with Green, Andrew Hawkins and Jermaine Gresham, so it's up to the front seven to create some mistakes.
Bold Prediction: The Teams Combine for Seven Total Turnovers
Overall, this should be a sloppy game.
The Eagles are just a sloppy team (read: poorly coached) overall, and the Bengals are behind the eight ball on the road in a short week. Expect a slow start from both and a gradual heat-up to what should be a solid game to watch toward the end, if viewers can uncover their eyes after all the miscues.
Player of the Game Prediction: Geno Atkins
A big part of forcing those turnovers for the Bengals is going to be Atkins, who I've already mentioned has an easy matchup against the Eagles' interior. He'll push the pocket (using the word "pocket" loosely) and create a lot of unquantifiable pressure on top of the tackles, sacks, hits and hurries.
Atkins and the rest of that Bengals pass rush is a huge reason why the Bengals will weather the storm of early-game mistakes and triumph on Thursday Night Football.
Final Score Prediction: Bengals 20; Eagles 17
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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