The Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) took it to the Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1) on Sunday, emerging victorious by a score of 42-14. This win—along with a Baltimore Ravens loss—solidified the Bengals as the 2013 AFC North champions.
The Bengals move to 7-0 at home this season after demolishing the Vikings and have one more remaining contest at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 17 against the Ravens.
Next week, the Bengals have an opportunity to move into the No. 2 seed and obtain a first-round bye with a win and a New England Patriots loss.
Cincinnati is firing on all cylinders right now and look like a team that is ready to contend in the playoffs.
However, before all of the playoff talk begins, let's take a position-by-position look at how the Bengals fared against the Vikings on Sunday.
Andy Dalton was absolutely electric on Sunday, producing one of his best performances on the year.
Dalton spread the ball around nicely, connecting with eight different targets on the day. The bulk of his passes were thrown in the direction of A.J. Green—as they should be—however, ball distribution allowed all of Cincinnati's offensive weapons to get into the mix.
Maintaining his poise in the pocket and delivering accurate, timely passes allowed Dalton to flourish against the Minnesota secondary. Dalton was on target all day and showcased his ability to connect on the deep ball.
Dalton finished the contest completing 27 of his 38 pass attempts for 366 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a passer rating of 136.5.
Game Grade: A+
The Bengals were not afraid to stick with the run against a stout Vikings defense on Sunday. Seven different players carried the ball for Cincinnati, with the bulk of the work going to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard.
Neither of the Bengals running backs were able to find much room to maneuver against Minnesota. Green-Ellis and Bernard averaged 2.0 and 1.5 yards per carry, respectively.
Green-Ellis was able to punch it in on a four-yard touchdown scamper to put the Bengals on the board in the first quarter. However, the running game was rather lackluster thereafter.
Bernard flashed his ability as a receiver once again and caught two passes for 47 yards on Sunday. His versatility continues to improve the dynamics of the offense.
Game Grade: C-
A.J. Green and Marvin Jones are quickly turning into one of the NFL's most prolific wide receiver duos. Green has been a star since joining the Bengals three years ago, and Jones' emergence this season has finally provided a viable complement to the All-Pro receiver.
Green stole the show once again on Sunday, as he hauled in a team-leading seven receptions for 97 yards and two touchdowns. His speed, athleticism and reliability continue to impress each and every week.
Jones' speed was also on display. He caught six passes for 85 yards for an average of 14.2 yards per reception.
The Bengals are extremely deep at the wide receiver position, as Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu also got into the mix.
Hawkins showcased his elusiveness, taking a Dalton pass 34 yards. Sanu was able to use his big body in the red zone, hauling in a seven-yard touchdown pass from Dalton in the third quarter.
Game Grade: A
The Bengals haven't exactly been utilizing the two-tight end set as much as was thought earlier in the season. However, with the amount of talent the team has at the wide receiver position, it hasn't really been necessary.
Jermaine Gresham continued his roller-coaster season. He was able to haul in three receptions for 49 yards and a score. However, despite his success in the passing game, ball security remained an issue. Gresham did lose a fumble midway through the contest.
Gresham continues to display toughness and athleticism, but also lacks the fundamentals to make him an elite tight end at the NFL level.
Tyler Eifert was not utilized heavily in the passing game on Sunday. In fact, he was only targeted once. He did make the reception for six yards.
Game Grade: B-
The Bengals continue to shuffle around the offensive line. For the second-straight week, Andrew Whitworth continued to take snaps at left guard. Anthony Collins continued to start at left tackle. On the right side of the line, Mike Pollak and Kevin Zeitler split time at the guard position.
Shuffling the line around this late in the season can be troubling. After all, an offensive line is at its best when each player is familiar with the man next to him.
Despite the shifting of the line, the only player who seemed to struggle in all phases of the game was center Kyle Cook. His biggest letdown was his inability to create space in the middle of the line to spring Bengals running backs to the next level.
Cook was also responsible for one of the two sacks on Dalton.
Overall, the offensive line was above average. However, there are still things to iron out before the Bengals head to the playoffs.
Game Grade: C+
The Bengals defensive line has been without star defensive tackle Geno Atkins for some time now. They have remained a solid unit despite his absence. In a collective effort on Sunday, they were able to contain Adrian Peterson, one of the NFL's most dangerous running backs.
Peterson was limited to 45 yards on 11 carries. Always a threat to break off a big run, the Bengals were able to keep his production to a minimum, as his longest carry of the game went for 11 yards.
The problem for Cincinnati was to maintain the edge against the speedy Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson was able to gash the Bengals for 54 yards and a score on just three carries.
The line was able to apply pressure on quarterback Matt Cassel throughout the contest. Cassel was flustered and delivered a terrible performance as a result.
Domata Peko and Carlos Dunlap combined for a sack, and the line allowed linebacker Vontaze Burfict to blaze through for two sacks of his own. Cincinnati recorded six quarterback hits on the game, four of which came from members of the defensive line.
Game Grade: B+
The Bengals linebacker corps remain one of Cincinnati's best units. James Harrison was unable to play on Sunday due to a concussion—however, the linebackers that did play were able to flourish.
Vontaze Burfict led the team in tackles yet again. He recorded six total tackles, including one for a loss and was able to sack Cassel twice. His outstanding performances each week make him one of the NFL's most prolific linebackers.
Rey Maualuga was able to put together a fine game as well. He only recorded three tackles, but he was also able to make an athletic play, as he intercepted a Cassel pass over the middle of the field.
Despite the great performances of these two linebackers, it was Vincent Rey who had the play of the game for Cincinnati. Rey stepped in front of a Cassel pass, intercepted it and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
This is the kind of defense that wins playoff games.
Game Grade: A
With the pressure applied from the Bengals defensive line, the battered secondary held their own against some very good Vikings receivers.
Reggie Nelson continued his sure-tackling ways, as he finished second on the team with five total tackles.
Adam Jones remained in tight coverage throughout the contest. He was able to defend two passes and did not allow many yards after the catch, as his stellar coverage allowed him to make instant tackles after a reception.
Dre Kirkpatrick continues to learn the ways of an NFL starting cornerback. He only allowed two receptions against him on the day—one did go for a touchdown, however. He also had one pass defended, as a Cassel throw bounced off of his helmet and resulted in a George Iloka interception.
Overall, it was a great effort from the entire secondary as they held Cassel to a dismal performance. Cassel finished the game completing 13 of his 27 attempts for 114 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions for a passer rating of just 32.6.
Game Grade: A
After a season-ending injury to punter Kevin Huber in Week 15, the Bengals turned to former Bills punter Shawn Powell. In his first performance in a Bengals uniform, Powell was not outstanding, but remained above average. He punted four times, downing one inside the 20-yard line with a long punt of 52 yards.
Mike Nugent remained quiet on the day after the Bengals continued to get the ball into the end zone. Nugent connected on all six of his extra point attempts.
Coverage was a bit of an issue for Cincinnati on Sunday. Patterson was able to rip off four kick returns for an average 35.8 yards. He had a long return of 48 yards on the day.
Marcus Sherels was also able to find space on a punt return against the Bengals, gaining 22 yards on his lone attempt.
The Bengals coverage unit must improve quickly, as they will face a dangerous Jacoby Jones next week.
Game Grade: C
The Bengals' coaching staff came in with a great game plan against the Vikings. The team was well prepared and executed to perfection.
After a terrible defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15, the coaches were able to get this Bengals team geared up and back in form for this crucial contest.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jay Gruden was able to maintain a very balanced attack. The Bengals threw the ball 38 times and rushed 37 times on Sunday. Maintaining that level of efficiency will be very beneficial for Cincinnati going forward.
Defensively, the Bengals were completely dominant. Mike Zimmer was able to dial up blitz packages that confused Cassel throughout the game. Zimmer's defensive scheme accounted for four sacks, 10 passes defended and three interceptions against the veteran quarterback.
Penalties were kept relatively in check, as the Bengals accumulated six for a total of 55 yards against the Vikings. Ball security was flawless aside from one fumble by Gresham. Cincinnati was able to control the clock and finished with a 39:32 time of possession.
Overall, this was a fantastic effort by a team that looks to be ready to make a run in the playoffs.
Game Grade: A+