2010 NFL Preview: Cincinnati Bengals Can't Beat Tough Schedule, Go 8-8
It's not that the Bengals are a bad team. On the contrary, they may be more talented than ever. It is not the curse of the Bungles either that has them not putting together back-to-back winning seasons in 28 years. It's just that they have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL.
The NFL scheduling gods have conspired to give the Bengals a Herculean task. Besides two tough division games each with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, they play San Diego, New Orleans, New England, the Jets, and Dolphins too. Oh, did I mention they play the Colts also?
With that kind of schedule, the Bengals are going to be hard-pressed to finish this season at 8-8, third in the AFC North, and out of the playoffs. Sorry Bengal fans, you and Marvin Lewis deserve better. But that is what my crystal ball shows me.
Game 1 @ New England
The Bengals open the season on the road against the New England Patriots. Tom Brady has said the Pats have to suck it up and play tougher after being embarrassed by the Ravens in the playoffs last year. They come out at home with a statement to make.
The Bengals want to get off to a good start too, but Bill Belichick out game plans Lewis and they befuddle the Bengals offense. In the meantime, Brady hooks up with Randy Moss and the Patriots win a close one, 21-18 to kick off the NFL season.
Game 2 Baltimore Ravens
Life isn't kind, and it doesn't get any easier if you are a Bengal. The vastly improved Ravens come to town. While Cincy has added a great TE and DE in the draft, the Ravens have added Sergio Kindle and Mount Cody to an already nasty defense. Plus, they have added receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth to an offense featuring Ray Rice and Joe Flacco. This ain't your grandmother's Ravens. They will light you up.
Worse game of the year for the Bengals. They are just outplayed by the Ravens. Once they go down early, they abandon the run and the Ravens D feasts on the Bengals. In the most lopsided loss of the year, they go down 36-12.
Game 3 @ Caronlina Panthers
Week 3 gives the Bengals a break. They travel to Charlotte to play the tough Panthers, but those cats are no match for the Cincy cats.
Jimmy Clausen, the Panthers rookie QB, is befuddled by Zimmer's defense. While the Panthers running game is formidable, Carson leads the team for a couple of scores and the Panthers have to abandon the run.
The Bengals feeling the frustration of opening the season with two straight losses, and notch their first win of the season. Both Chad Ochocinco and Antonio Bryant have TDs in a 29-16 win.
Game 4 @ Cleveland Browns
The Bengals go upstate to take on the Browns. The weak sister of the AFC North provides another feast for the hungry Bengals. Jerome Harrison is the real deal, but there is not much else in the Cleveland offense that is real.
Meanwhile, Bengal rookie TE Jermaine Gresham scores his first touchdown of the season, despite his history of knee injuries that has many nervous. Cedric Benson is also starting to look like the back from last year, lighting up Cleveland for 125 yards. The Bengals win the game 21-15, but it really is not that close.
Game 5 Tampa Bay Bucs
The easy part of the Bengal schedule concludes with the young Bucs coming to town. The Bengals spank them pretty good. Palmer has his best game of the season as the Bengals fire on all cylinders.
The Bucs have little they can do to stop the Bengals from running away and hiding in a 38-17 blowout.
Game 6 @ Atlanta Falcons
After a bye week, the Bengals resume with a tough road game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are no push-over. Matt Ryan is the real deal.
The birds will give the cats as much as they can handle, but Palmer will lead the Bengals on a late drive, and the Bengals will escape Atlanta with a hard fought 24-21 win.
Game 7 Miami Dolphins
Next up, the tough Miami Dolphins come to town. Led by Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams and featuring Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins have a major league offense, and a tough defense as well.
This week, it is the Dolphins driving late in the game for a win. But the Bengals D comes up big, as rookie Carlos Dunlap sacks Chad Henne on a 3rd-and-5 on the Bengals 42-yard line. The Bengals hold on to win a close one 19-16. This game could have gone either way.
Game 8 Pittsburgh Steelers
It's Monday night and the Steelers are in town. Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith, Larry Foote and Bryant McFadden are back, and it is the Steeler D of 2008 all over again. Big Ben is off of his suspension and playing with something to prove.
The Bengals beat the Steelers twice last year, even though they were outgained on offense in both games. There will be no last minute heroics this time. The Steelers pound the ball, and Ben finds Hines Ward for a score on the way to a 23-13 win. Though the score is low, the game was not that close.
Game 9 @ Indianopolis Colts
Reeling from a loss to their hated division rivals and coming off a short prep week, the Bengals get no sympathy from Peyton Manning and the Colts. Even being in a dog fight themselves with the Houston Texans in the AFC South, the Colts won't lose at home.
The Bengals offense is able to score a bit on the Indy D, but Manning is the sheriff in this town. The Colts take this one 32-24.
Game 10 Buffalo Bills
The Bengals get a bit of a breather as the Buffalo Bills come to town. The Bills are the Browns of the AFC East. They are getting beat on by the Pats, Jets, and Dolphins, and have the bad luck to be playing the AFC North too.
The Bengals show them no mercy though. In a flashback to last year, the Bengals dominate and send the Bills packing with a 28-13 win
Game 11 @ NY Jets
The Bengals next opponent from the AFC East is not quite as tame. The NY Jets are one of the elite teams in the NFL after drastically upgrading a roster that was good enough to kick the Bengals out of the playoffs last year. This Thanksgiving Day game on national TV is a real slug fest.
But the Bengals have not forgotten the sting of that loss in the playoffs, and come in looking to show the Jets something. It is a tight defensive game, but Palmer does it again for the Bengals. They win on a late field goal 20-18.
Game 12 New Orleans Saints
The extra days rest help the Bengals who were pretty beat up coming out of the Jet game. But it will take more than that to beat Drew Brees and the defending Super Bowl champions Saints.
The Bengals keep it close with some big plays, but the Saints come out the winners 28-24.
Game 13 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Bengals come to Pittsburgh 7-5 on the year. A loss to the Steelers would all but mathematically eliminate them from the playoffs though. The Steelers are on a roll. Plus, they have been itching to get the Bengals in Heinz Field.
It is a very closely played game, but the Steelers convert their chances every time. The Steelers special teams are not as weak as last year. In fact, a fumble recovery on a kick-off proves the back-breaker. The Steelers put the nail in the coffin with a 26-10 win.
Game 14 Cleveland Browns
Thank God for the Cleveland Browns. The hapless Browns are just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Bengals. Though banged up, they look great in easily handling the Browns 21 -10 in a game that was not even that close.
Cincy is now 8-6, and still entertaining in their own minds at least an outside shot at the playoffs.
Game 15 San Diego Chargers
Because the finished first last year, the Bengals have to play the other first place finishers. So the AFC West Champion Chargers come to town in Week 15. You don't want to play Philip Rivers in December; he is all but unbeatable.
Norv Turner has the Chargers on their usual December trajectory that will see them crash and burn in the playoffs. But in December, they are world-beaters. The Bengals give it everything they have but come up short as Rivers wants his shot at the Super Bowl. He leads the Bolts to the win on a screen pass to Darren Sproles. The Charges kill the Bengals 2010 season with a 35-28 win.
Game 16 @ Baltimore Ravens
This could be Ray Lewis's last home game. Plus, the Ravens are on a drive to stay alive and make the playoffs. The Bengals just don't have anything to play for except trying for a winning 9-7 record.
That is not enough as the Ravens beat up the Bengals 21-10, ending the Bengals' season.
I know it is a bitter pill to swallow for the proud Bengal fans. This time it was going to be different. Breaking a 28 year tradition, the Bengals were going to keep on winning. But it is not so much the Bengals not playing well, as much as it is the tough schedule they were dealt.
For you Raven and Steeler-haters, even if you say the Bengals split with them, I thought I was very generous giving you wins against the Jets, Dolphins, and Falcons. The Bengals actual record could be worse.
I'm interesting in your opinions though. So feel free, but no personal insults please. Yes I am a Steeler fan, but have been writing these up for all the AFC North teams to start.