Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos came. They saw. They conquered. The Cincinnati Bengals couldn’t reverse their recent losing streak as the Broncos ran out 31-23 winners in Paul Brown Stadium. After nine weeks of the NFL season, the Bengals are left with the unenviable record of 3-5. In the AFC North, that may already be too big of a hole to rebound from. The Bengals are closer to the Cleveland Browns, who stand at 2-7, than the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers who have records of 6-2 and 5-3 respectively.
At the halfway point of the season, the Bengals are far from where they want to be not only in terms of their record, but their on field performance. Quarterback Andy Dalton has seemingly regressed in his second season, the revamping of the offense has not so far worked out and the defense is giving up 27.2 points per game as the rookie class has failed to provide any difference makers. Of course, the Bengals have plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the long-term, their roster is built on youthful pillars, but the short-term could be about to get very ugly.
The Bengals have won three games this year, but furthermore they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record and the combined record of the teams they have beaten is 6-20. While the remaining eight teams on their schedule have a combined record of 31-32, the Bengals face off against many teams that have performed at a higher level than them so far this season. They also can’t completely be trusted against the supposed lesser opposition, after already suffered a loss to the Browns on the road.
Any potential rebound from this week’s loss will have to go through another Manning, this time Eli Manning. Eli and the New York Giants, the reigning Super Bowl champions, are coming off a tough loss at home to the Steelers. The Steelers were able to come away with a victory by managing the game on offense and controlling the Giants’ offense with a high quality defensive display. The Giants are infamously better on the road and will be looking to make a statement as question marks will undoubtedly arise this week. After Dalton was sacked five times this week against the Broncos, his chances against that defense next week can’t be good.
Once the Giants leave town, the Bengals must travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs, a team who haven’t led in regulation of a game this season. Even though the Chiefs haven’t impressed all year long, Arrowhead Stadium is an intimidating atmosphere and could prove to be a very tough test if the Bengals get ahead of themselves. As they did in Cleveland earlier this season. The Chiefs are the first team in a three game stretch against the AFC West, as the Oakland Raiders visit Cincinnati the following week, before a trip to face the San Diego Chargers is on the cards. Neither of the Raiders or Chargers are the most consistent of football teams, but both arguably have been more consistently competitive than the Bengals this season.
A murderer’s row quartet could escort the Bengals to the gallows finishing the season. The Dallas Cowboys will likely still be hunting a playoff spot when they come to town in Week 14, while who knows what the Philadelphia Eagles will be at home in Week 15. By that time Michael Vick will either have improved his level of play to keep his job, or rookie Nick Foles will have replaced him to stabilize the ship. Even if the Eagles still have significant problems at the quarterback position at that point, the Eagles should then be able to focus their offense around LeSean McCoy and live off of the Bengals’ offensive futility on defense. A lot can change between now and then, but the likelihood of the Bengals rebounding is a lot less than the Eagles doing so.
If the Bengals somehow are still in contention for a playoff spot with two games to go in the season, their fate will be in their own hands. However, that fate will be tough to hold up high. A trip to Heinz Field to face the Steelers is never appealing, while the Ravens will be hoping to complete a sweep of victories to finish the season.
By just looking at the quarterback position, you can get an idea about the difficult schedule the Bengals will have to overcome. Having already faced Peyton, Ben Roethlisberger and Robert Griffin III, the Bengals will see Eli, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and Roethlisberger again. The other teams without a quarterback all have top quality running backs in Jamaal Charles, McCoy and Ray Rice. Throw in five of the better defenses in the NFL and the slope that the Bengals are currently sliding down is only feeling steeper as the games approach.
The Bengals are a young team, but a losing streak in the short-term can be very damaging to the overall development of the players on the team and the team’s chemistry. Even though it may not be obvious why, the Bengals are entering a very important stretch for their franchise over the final weeks of the regular season.
Cian Fahey writes for RantSports, Irishcentral, The Guardian, Balls.ie and FootballGuys. You can follow him on twitter @Cianaf