Saturday, October 24, 2015

Six and Uh-Oh

Well, at least not this week.

The Bengals current sit as one of the five undefeated teams in the NFL.  Their record is 6-0.  They haven't been 6-0 since 1988.  That was the last time they made it to the Super Bow.

But things won't be that easy this year.

While the AFC Central back in '88 was very good (it sent three teams to the playoffs: the Houston Oilers, the Cleveland Browns, and the Cincinnati Bengals), outside of the Bills, the AFC wasn't that great.

In 2015, that's not the story.  The Patriots - also 6-0 - are coming off a Super Bowl victory (okay, the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl more than the Pats won it, but still . . .) and they are looking even better this year.  Denver is also undefeated, but Peyton Manning is not looking like his normal Hall-of-Fame self.  Look for them to fade late, just like they did last year.  Even though their defense is still epic.

Outside of the Seahawks, the Bengals haven't faced much in competition this year.  To be blunt: their offense is lethal.

Here is a look at their firepower of offense:

Andy Dalton is second in the NFL in passing.  Best of all, he is killing it on third down and in the fourth quarter.  He has 14 TDs and just two INTs.  Last year he had all of 17 touchdown passes.

AJ Green is tied for sixth in receiving yards in the NFL.  Gio Bernard is eighth in the NFL in rushing.

And their weapons do not stop there: Tyler Eifert has six TDs from his tight end position.  Jeremy Hill has added 5 touchdowns and a two point conversion.  Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are also exceptional weapons for Cincy too.  Plus, their offensive line is playing as well as it ever has in the Marvin Lewis era.

Overall, they are third in the league in offense.

Defensively, things are a different story.  Since teams are constantly behind vs Cincy, their defense has been in a "bend but don't break" philosophy that doesn't suit them the best.

But there have been some bright spots:

The pass rush is back.  Carlos Dunlap leads the league in sacks and Geno Atkins is back to disrupting running plays and he has more sacks than all but one defensive tackle in the NFL.

The secondary is getting interceptions, but I'd like to see bigger plays out of them.  Adam Jones has been solid in coverage.

Their special teams, even, are killing it this year too.  They single handedly helped them win the Seattle game with Mike Nugent hitting a last second field goal as the whole field goal team had to hustle on the field and kick it with under 14 seconds left in the game.  Then Adam Jones as a punt returned had huge returns to help them start in excellent field position.  Finally, their punter, Kyle Hebert, has flipped the field position to keep teams from started anywhere close to midfield.

This week during the bye, the Bengals hope to get one of their best defensive player back: Vontaze Burfict.  His attitude and playmaking ability are sorely missing this year.

Next up for Cincy is their biggest game of the year so far: in Pittsburgh vs. the Steelers.

The Steelers have made it a habit of dashing the hopes of the Bengals.  Think back to 2005 when the met in the wildcard round of the playoffs and the Steelers took Carson Palmer out with a low hit that wrecked his knee.  Then the following year, the Bengals lost to the Steelers in OT to knock them out of the playoffs.  Then last year in Pittsburgh, the Steelers dashed the Bengals' comeback when they crushed AJ Green, causing him to fumble and giving him a concussion that would keep him out of their wildcard game against the Colts.

Cinco might have caught a break with Big Ben missing several weeks with a minor knee injury, but he looks to be back in time for the big showdown next week.  If the Bengals lose, they'll still be in first place in the North, but they will only have a one game lead over the Steelers.

If their offense can match the Steelers, though, Cincy has a shot.  But that's a pretty big if!

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