Cincinnati Bengals fans lament. There are four roads to the Super Bowl and every path is uphill... both ways... in a windstorm.
The routes are as follows:
- 1. Jets -> @Colts -> @Chargers -> Super Bowl
- 2. Jets -> @Chargers -> @Colts -> Super Bowl
- 3. Jets -> @Colts -> @Patriots -> Super Bowl
- 4. Jets -> @Chargers -> @Ravens -> Super Bowl
As the 4th seed in the AFC Playoffs the Cin-Cats must pull off one of four daunting hat-tricks. Two of these doomsday scenarios feature a double dip of road games versus the Bolts and Colts in successive weeks. It's already been a long, hard season of ups and downs. The fans in Cincy have had more then their share of playoff drought years but even the postseason this year is looking dry. (Since 1991, only a humiliating "one and done" in the 05 Wild Card round against the rival Steelers). Sorry, but the planets have not aligned in any kinder manner this year.
Things aren't looking up. Throw out last week's exhibition against the Jets and there is still plenty of cause for concern. Let's get something straight, the Jets are not going to the Super Bowl; they just aren't built for it. They cannot plug all the leaks for three weeks that the AFC's offensive powerhouses are about to douse them with. (Apologies to Fireman Ed). Want to know what they are built for ? Wild Card spoiler... and they are laying in wait for a team that doesn't have it's rhythm down-pat at the first dance.
Those of you who read my AFC predictions article know that I see a host of upsets in this year's AFC playoff race. Here again, for the record, is my outlook on the Bengals.
Who are they? They are 10-6, but where was the seminal game of the 2009 season? They swept the Steelers and the Ravens but they got beat in the gut-check game against San Diego. Then, they got dismantled by the Vikings in a lopsided December that saw them go 1-3. (Yes that December has an asterisk) But, what team was it that lost those head-scratchers versus Houston and Oakland? When you look at the entire season, it isn't a matter of "we were just resting" in Week 17; it's a matter of which Bengals team shows up. Will it be the Bengals that gutted out four, hard fought victories vs. the Packers, Steelers, Browns and Ravens in Weeks 2 through 5? Or will it be the LoLcats that posted a 3-4 record in Weeks 11 through 17. Reconsider, the final week exhibition against the Jets, how would the Bengals have fared even if they were trying? Those three wins in the last stretch came against 5-11 Cleveland, 2-14 Detroit and 4-12 K.C. Not exactly a murderer's row.
Now Ochocinco is nursing an MRI-worthy knee-tweak and the Bengals have lost their productive rookie OLB. Just when the Jets are finding their "See!" legs. Sure the Jets may have played versus tackling dummies in their last two weeks of the regular season but they are nevertheless the #1 ranked defense in the league (including #1 in points, yards and passing yards allowed and 8th against the run). And now, more importantly, the Jets are brimming with confidence while the Bengals are either overlooking what a serious spoiler threat the Jets are, or don't realize the left-turn their season took when they weren't looking.
And that's just Wild Card round!
In the Divisional Playoff round all the hard work of overcoming mediocrity and shaking off the cob-webs only earns the Bengals a trip to either San Diego or Indianapolis. Despite the late-game comeback that Nate Kaeding's 52 yard field goal stymied in San Diego, I wouldn't be looking forward to a rematch with the Bolts. Too bad it's going to be next impossible to avoid. Scenarios 1, 2 and 4 (above) all go through San Diego. It was an exciting game to watch in Week 15 and the Bengals ended up spreading the ball out over a number of receivers and keeping L.T. in check (Not as hard as it used to be) but the Bolts are humming and they have all their pieces back in place, just in time for the Divisional Playoff weekend. For the last 11 weeks the Chargers have been the San Diego SuperChargers of theme-song fame.
The other Divisional Playoff destination, in scenarios 1 and 3, is Indy and the Colts. Believe it or not, this is the one Bengal's fans should be hoping for. Give me a rusty, drowsy Colts team that's eeked squeakers this year over a humming streaking Chargers team any day. Those of you that read my AFC Predictions article know that I think the first team to get Indy gets the best chance at this year's epic upset shocker. The Colts are resilient and they have proven throughout the season that they can "find a way," however, their first post-season appearance represents a special confluence of circumstance that the right team could exploit into an AFC Championship berth. Root for the Patriots to take the Ravens and take care of business in the Wild Card, and that team could be Cincy.
If they do make it to the AFC Championship it's wide open. It means they've solved their identity crisis and are clicking. The other team will be too. Best-case scenario the Bengals get the familiar Ravens and a home-game coming off a victory over the Bolts. Worst-case scenario they go to the Chargers for a shoot-out after surviving the Colts. Lurking in the shadows is a match-up versus a banged-up Patriot team that would have gotten there through both the Ravens and the Chargers or the now, rust-free Colts gunning for a Super Bowl berth after tuning up against the Ravens.
Good Luck Bengals you've got a rough row to hoe.
Coming soon: Click my name above for a link to a complete playoff scenarios map.