On paper, the Cincinnati Bengals should manhandle the St. Louis Rams, a team that has won just two games this season and will likely be without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
We all know the cliché about “any given Sunday” in the NFL, but this one appears to be a gimme.
However, there is something to be learned from the Bengals' approach to their Week 15 matchup. Cincinnati’s performance will tell the football-watching world whether or not the Bengals are a mentally strong team.
After losing last week to the Houston Texans, it would be easy for the young team to phone it in against an inferior opponent on Sunday. Marvin Lewis publicly acknowledged the importance of the game against the Texans, calling it the most important December game in his tenure as Bengals head coach.
The demoralizing last-second defeat put the Bengals’ playoff hopes on life support and sucked the air out of a promising season. The emotional letdown of losing a game that would have legitimized the young team may be too much for them to bear. They are liable to fold under the disappointment and find themselves mentally unable to psych themselves up for this week’s game against the Rams.
This happens around offices all over America. You have probably seen it in yours, and it may happen to the Bengals on Sunday. An employee loses a major account or is passed over for a promotion and falls into a funk. His performance diminishes for a time before he snaps out of it and his work returns to form.
Conversely, the Bengals may feel that the pressure is off and they can get back to playing football.
While the outcome of Sunday’s game against St. Louis will affect Cincinnati’s slim chances to snag a wild-card spot, the game is not considered a litmus test of any kind. This is not an AFC North “measuring stick game”; it is just a game.
Perhaps that is exactly what the team needs.
The team might be energized by playing a game that leads to no conclusions, to perform on a stage without a spotlight. A solid performance against the Rams could re-establish the momentum the Bengals built in the middle of the season when they won five straight.
If Cincinnati plays as hard and execute as well against the Rams as it did against the Steelers, Ravens and Texans, it will win.
Right now, more than ever this season, the Bengals need to remind themselves that their effort has made them successful. This success can lead to more success.
This scenario plays out in offices around the country as well. The same employee who loses the major account may redouble his effort to find new, more profitable accounts. Not receiving a promotion motivates many people to work harder to ensure they receive a promotion the next time one becomes available.
The Bengals may play hard just to remind everyone—including themselves—how they won six of their first nine games this season.
On the surface, the Cincinnati Bengals' game against the St. Louis Rams appears meaningless. Winning will not get the team into the playoffs, and trouncing a floundering team will not erase the sting of last week’s gut-shot home loss.
However, a win will send a message.
A Cincinnati victory against the Rams will show everyone the kind of team, the kind of men, the Bengals are.