5 Biggest Obstacles Facing the Cincinnati Bengals in Pursuit of Division Crown

Matt GrayContributor INovember 20, 2013

5 Biggest Obstacles Facing the Cincinnati Bengals in Pursuit of Division Crown

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) stopped the bleeding on Sunday with a 41-20 home win over the Cleveland Browns (4-6).

    They head into their bye week 2.5 games ahead in the AFC North and will still be on top when they face the San Diego Chargers in two weeks.

    With the rest of the division at 4-6, the Bengals would need to have a terrible second half in order to give up their lead.

    However, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco are no strangers to spoiling parties, and you would struggle to find a Bengals fan who’s putting the champagne on ice just yet.

    So, let’s take a look at the biggest obstacles facing the Bengals as they try to lock up the AFC North crown.

Andy Dalton

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    There is perhaps no greater threat to the Bengals' AFC North title (and beyond) than Andy Dalton.

    For a while it looked like Dalton might be run out of town after the Cleveland game. A torrid first quarter in which he threw an interception and a pick-six had him looking more like No. 9 than No. 14.

    He managed to get things back on track, but the doubt remains.

    Can Andy Dalton be an elite QB?

    The honest answer is, probably not.

    But he doesn’t have to be. He just needs to do enough, and for the most part, he’s done that. With such a strong team around him, Dalton can be a serviceable QB and still have success.

    Based on what we’ve seen so far, you can be pretty confident that he will continue to do enough to bring home the AFC North.

Penalties

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cincinnati Bengals are racking up penalties like they’re going out of style.

    This breakdown comes via Josh Kirkendall of the Dayton Daily News:

    Cincinnati has been called for 18 15-yard penalties -- 10 unnecessary roughness penalties, three 15-yard face mask fouls, two horse-collar tackles, two roughing the passer, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty…Of the ten unnecessary roughness fouls, six belong to [Vontaze] Burfict, who also leads the team with nine total penalties -- one more than Jermaine Gresham.

    So far, they’ve managed to overcome them. Right now, Bengals fans revel in cracking wise over Twitter whenever Jermaine Gresham gets flagged, but as the postseason looms, his ineptitude will only become more frustrating.

    Compared to the rest of the league, the Bengals sit at around mid-table when it comes to penalties.

    However, after so many close games, it’s become clear just how make-or-break a penalty can be. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see a game or two snatched away from Cincy by a late penalty in the coming weeks.

Teams in Desperation Mode

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    At the time of writing, three of the five teams left on the Bengals schedule still have a chance of grabbing an AFC wild-card spot.

    San Diego, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

    Of those, the Ravens and the Steelers will be the primary concern. Both teams need a win over Cincy to keep their playoff hopes alive, and they will fancy their chances. The Ravens have already beaten the Bengals once this year.

    A win in the AFC North is never easy, and it certainly won’t be in 2013, regardless of current win-loss records.

    Also, don’t forget about Indianapolis. The Colts and the Bengals are both in the hunt for a first-round bye, making their Week 14 matchup all the more important.

Health

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    The Bengals hobbled into their bye week at just the right time.

    With Geno Atkins’ season-ending ACL tear fresh in the memory, health has become a hot topic in the Queen City.

    Leon Hall, Robert Geathers and Taylor Mays are some of the key parts they’ll have to do without in the return leg of the season, and Cincy can’t afford any more bad news.

    You also have to wonder whether other players might be downplaying injuries because of that fact.

    Giovani Bernard, Andrew Whitworth and Jermaine Gresham are just some of the players who have missed time this season, and a prolonged absence from any of them could really hurt.

Complacency

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    It would take an epic collapse for the Bengals to give up the AFC North title at this stage, and the players will be aware of that.

    What they choose to do with that information is key.

    Will they turn up the pressure in pursuit of a first-round bye? Will they sit back and take a 9-7 record? Will they get too comfortable and completely blow it?

    They’ve certainly been guilty of playing down to their competition in the past.

    It’s also been some time since the Bengals have been in a position of power akin to this, and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle it.

    Hopefully we’ll get a definitive answer in San Diego, two weeks from now.