Bengals in The Playoffs!! Numbers and Matchups vs Texans

The sixth-seed Bengals will play at the three-seed Houston Texans in the AFC-wild card round at 4:30 Saturday on the first Saturday of 2012 2013.  Deja Vu!!  As opposed to last season, the Texans enter this game struggling and the Bengals enter the playoffs on a roll.  The Texans are playing this week after having lost home-field advantage by losing three of the last four, including last week at Indianapolis.  The resurgent Bengals were left for dead after week 9, finding themselves 3-5 before winning 7 of their last 8 to get to 10-6.  The Texans won decisively in the wild-card faceoff last season behind J.J. Watt's breakout performance.  Have the Bengals improved enough to get Marvin Lewis his first playoff win and the first Bengal playoff win since 1990?  Time to find out!!

0: Number of playoff wins for Marvin Lewis and number of playoff starts for Texans QB Matt Schaub. 

1: Career playoff starts for Andy Dalton and career playoff wins for Texans' coach Gary Kubiak, and we all remember that one.  Also, number of touchdowns Texans QB has thrown in the last four games, including two against the pourous Colts defense.  Don't get too excited Bengal fans, also the number of offensive touchdowns for the Bengals in the last two games.

6:  Number of road wins for the Bengals this season.  Also the number of AFC home wins for the Texans this season, making them undefeated against the AFC at home.

22:  Years since last Bengals playoff win.  Ironically, that win was also against Houston. Oops, I meant the Houston Oilers.

32: Percent conversion on third down for the Texans in the second half of the season.  Even lower on 3rd down and 3 or more.  Keep Foster in check and let third down dictate itself.

The Cheesehead Clash: Texans DT J.J. Watt vs Bengals RG Kevin Zeitler

University of Wisconsin alums Watt and Zeitler will match up in what could be the battle that determines the fate of the Bengals' O for the day.  Outstanding rookie Zeitler will try to keep probable NFL Defensive Player of the Year Watt from having a game similar to the breakout game he had last season in the playoffs.  Watt's game has only improved, challenging the single-season sack record but falling just short.

Bengals New vs Old: A.J. Green vs CB Jonathan Joseph

Bengals fans remember Joseph, who left more money on table to sign in Houston before the 2011 season.  Joseph is finally healthy for the first time all season, and needs to be 100% to have a chance at containing Green, who enjoys a full five-inch height advantage over Joseph.  Joseph is one of the best cover corners in the NFL nevertheless, and Green will need his best effort along with a little more accuracy from QB Andy Dalton to lead the Bengals down the field.

Matt Schaub vs Bengals Defensive Line

Savvy veteran QB Matt Schaub will start his first playoff game against the outstanding Bengals defensive line.  The defense had a club record 51 sacks on the season, and even more impressive is the fact that 38 of those sacks came without any blitz.  This tells us the d-line is getting outstanding pressure on the QB and is allowing the rest of the defense to play coverage.  Schaub comes into the game struggling but is always a threat. 

Illegal Arian:  Geno Atkins and the Bengals Defensive Line vs. RB Arian Foster

No doubt, Arian Foster is an all-world RB.  However, the Texans run game has not been the guarantee it was in the season's opening half.  The consistent pressure that Atkins and the defense get on the opposing o-line does not bode well for Foster either.  Atkins should have his way with Texans offensive linemen Ben Jones and Chris Myers.  In the month of December, the Bengals completely shut down running backs Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Mathews, and DeMarco Murray.  These guys may be a notch below Foster, but it does say that Foster can at least be contained by this defense even if it cannot completely shut him down.  Just one discouraging note, as good as the Bengals interior defense was, it was horrible on 3rd and short runs up the middle.

Texan vs Texans:  Andy Dalton vs Houston defense

Katy, TX native Andy Dalton struggled in last year's game and has really struggled throughout the second half of this season.  Though the Bengals offensive line is better matched up this time around, the Texans defense stands an excellent chance of making Dalton's Saturday afternoon miserable. In the absence of LB Brian Cushing, Brady Jackson has been nothing short of outstanding. One of Dalton's biggest faults is trying to force the ball to covered receivers and the Texans have the personnel to make him pay dearly for those decisions. DB's Joseph, Kareem Jackson, and Daniel Manning have all returned INT's for TD's this season, and don't forget Manning's stellar game against the Bengals in last year's playoff game.  

Not So Golden Graham:  Bengals Fan Base vs man who has no soul Shayne Graham

The red-headed kicker who singlehandedly eliminated the Bengals from getting to the 2006 playoffs will be doing the placekicking for the Texans this weekend.  If it's a close game, history will definitely favor the Bengals.  The man who has no soul has never made a clutch kick, even if he is still the most overrated supposed accurate kicker in NFL history.  That said, I'm hoping the Bengals have a comfortable lead and don't have to worry about a Graham game-winning field goal.  That very thing could be what finally sends me over the edge.

All in all, these two teams are similar in a lot of terms at this point.  The difference is the general direction in which these teams appear to be headed.  Both teams have struggling offenses with a superstar (Foster, Green).  Both have high-ranking NFL defenses (Bengals 6th, Texans 7th) and are dominant up front (Watt, Atkins).  In my opinion, one more year of experience and positive momentum are enough to usurp home field advantage and a team stuck in neutral if not reverse.  This sets up to be the game the young Bengals shed the up-and-coming label and have a coming out party of their own.  There is too much talent on this team to be satisfied with simply making playoff appearances.   If the Bengals can get the Texans into third and long and eliminate the play-action as the Colts, Vikings, and Patriots were able to do, the Bengals can win this game. I'm banking on having a game to preview next week. WHO DEY!!!

Bengals 21 Texans 13

Quick Primer on the 2012 Bengals for The Uninitiated

For the third time in four seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals are playoff bound.  For the second straight season, the Bengals will play as the sixth seed at Houston at 4:30 Eastern time Saturday with a 10-6 record.  Deja vu it may seem, but this Bengals team is a somewhat different version of last year's team that went to the playoffs and melted down in the second half against J.J. Watt and the Texans.  Because the Bengals aren't a household name and not chock full of fantasy football stars, it's my pleasure to offer you the reader a quick primer on the Bengals so you can impress your friends Saturday afternoon wherever you may be watching the game.

A.J. Green-the team's unquestioned best player who made the leap to superstar in his sophmore season.  Watch Green and appreciate the acrobatics/athleticism he displays hauling in passes that don't necessarily hit him in stride.  He can catch a high pass with the best of them.  I've previously mentioned it, but to get to know Green better, check out this New York Times piece on Green.

Andy Dalton-the Bengals second-year, second-round quarterback.  Dalton has commanded the huddle from day 1 of his NFL career.  After starting the season strong, Dalton has really struggled over the month of December.  Usually efficient but rarely spectacular, Dalton's smart play makes great use of Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden's West Coast offense in spite of what many believe is Dalton's limited arm strength. 

Coordinators-OC Gruden and Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer have both been spectacular making a team of mostly unwanted parts and meshing them into a team greater than the sums of its parts.   Both, particularly Zimmer, will be in the discussion for the six head coaching positions available once the season concludes.  The sometimes-abrasive Zimmer has been building these kinds of defenses for a long time, while Gruden is finishing his second season running the Bengals offense.

Geno Atkins-the Bengals other Pro Bowler.  Along with the Texans' J.J. Watt, this game will feature two of the top three interior defensive lineman in the NFL.  Atkins has supassed fellow 2010 draftee Carlos Dunlap on the way to the top of the league with 12.5 sacks this season.  Having lost draft status because of work ethic issues, Atkins has decided he wants to be great and this is the year he exploded into the NFL elite. 

Josh Brown-at the start of December, Brown was among the kickers with no team trying out with whoever was in need.  When Bengals kicker Mike Nugent went down with a practice injury, Brown was signed and has done nothing but pay dividends.  His end-of-game kick that sent the Bengals into the postseason will be on every highlight reel of the season.

Vontaze Burfict-had Burfict left for the draft after his sophmore season at Arizona State, he would have gone Top-15.  After a so-so junior season and an abysmal draft combine, Vontaze was looking in from the outside following the 2012 draft.  Marvin Lewis decided he was worth the gamble, and the Bengals have won big thus far.  Burfict has shown steady improvement as the season has progressed and has the look of a young LB headed to multiple Pro Bowls down the road.

Secondary-Flanking Burfict are steady vet Rey Maualuga, who bounced back from from a below-average 2011 season nicely, and 49ers castoff Manny Lawson.  The backfield consists of mostly castoffs.  Mike Zimmer has gotten everything that's left of CB's Terrence Newman and Nate Clements this season.  Leon Hall has bounced back nicely from last season's ACL tear but is not quite the elite corner he was before the injury.  Jaguars-castoff safety Reggie Nelson has been one of the better safeties in the league since coming to the Bengals and I personally think he was jobbed out of a Pro Bowl spot.

The Bengals second receiver-between TE Jermaine Gresham and WR's Andrew Hawkins, Marvin Jones, Ryan Whalen, and Brandon Tate, one of these guys will emerge as Andy Dalton's top target apart from A.J. Green.  Gresham is usually good for three catches over the middle from Dalton, but one of the other receivers will set themselves apart from the others in this game as they have in the others.  Who that will be is a guess.

RB Benjarvis Green-Ellis and the offensive line-RB Benjarvis Green-Ellis started the season horribly but had a stellar second half on his way to a 1200-yard season and helping the Bengals win 6 of their last 7.  Look for Green-Ellis to go the right side often, as rookie RG Kevin Zeitler and RT Andre Smith "yes the guy who had the flabby run in the video on Hard Knocks" will open up big holes for Law Firm. C Trevor Robinson has outplayed Kyle Cook in Cook's absence and I hope to see more of Robinson Saturday.  LG Clint Bolilng has been excelllent in the absence of Trevelle Wharton and LT Andrew Whitworth is the heart-and-soul of the line if not the offensive unit.  Either way he is an established team leader and a great tackle at that.

Head Coach Marvin Lewis-finishing his tenth season as Bengals head coach, Lewis will coach the Bengals in the playoffs for the fourth time in his tenure and for the third time in four seasons.  Lewis calls this his third rebuild of the Bengals and this is the one most suited to his style.  Now the second-most tenured coach in the NFL, Lewis is still searching for his first playoff win, for that matter the first playoff game with a chance to win it at the end.  Lewis was nearly fired following the 2010 nightmare season but has bounced back with two straight playoff appearances.  The most successful coach in Bengals history, fans are waiting for Lewis to take this team that holds so much promise into a playoff run of any sort and shed the up-and-coming label.

There you have it, the not-as-quick-as-I-thought intro to the 2012 Bengals.  Coming up soon will be a closer look at the matchups in the game.  Enjoy the game, here's to you being impressed by this young Bengals team and getting on the bandwagon. I hope Who Dey becomes a part of your everyday vocabulary.  Who Dey!!!

Bengals Week 17 Scoreboard Watching Guide

On Sunday, the Bengals and Ravens will do battle in a game that has no bearing on the Bengals status as the low AFC playoff seed with all games on the road.  The Ravens have a small chance to move into the third AFC playoff seed but that rests partly on the Patriots losing at home to the Dolphins (I don't see it happening either) and the Ravens beating the Bengals Sunday.  Though it has no bearing on next week, the Bengals need to win this game.  The Bengals have a lot of momentum going for them, having won 6 of 7 with a huge win at Pittsburgh last week.  This team is too young to ease up on the throttle and expect it to bounce right back the next weekend.  In addition, the Bengals will want to put on a great show for the sold-out crowd at Paul Brown Stadium in the team's 2012 finale.  So assuming the Bengals beat the Ravens, the question becomes, who should Bengal fans be hoping to play in the first round?  As it stands now, the Bengals will play at New England, with at Denver a possibiliy, and at Houston a longshot.   If we match the Bengals' strengths against the three possible playoff opponents, does one of the teams appear a better matchup for the Bengals? 

Geno Atkins and the Pass Rush

Geno Atkins may have had his breakout game against the Steelers last week, and is now getting attention that is well-deserved.  After blowing up Ben Roetlisberger last week, Atkins and the Bengals D-line will find the path to the quarterback a lot less easy against any of the three playoff opponents.  Denver has allowed its quarterback to be sacked just 21 times, compared to 24 for Houston and 26 for New England.  This makes the statement that great teams protect their QB's,  for they are also the top three in the AFC in terms of not allowing QB sacks.  By comparison, Andy Dalton has been sacked an AFC third-worst 44 times. Of note is that the Broncos have allowed Peyton Manning to be hit just 45 times, compared to 65 and 71 for the other contenders.   This basically means one extra hit a game, which almost seems insignificant in a one-game scenario.  Putting all this together we see that none of the opponents present a great chance for Atkins to dominate.  No advantage.

All-Universe WR A.J. Green vs the Opposing Pass Defense

First, if you haven't read this week's New York Times piece on A.J. Green, read it now!! Second, Green proved last week that great players show up when the game is on the line.  Now we ask, does the pass defense of one of the possible opponents give Green a better chance of being the man who beats the man down the stretch?  The Patriots have allowed an AFC-worst 349 receptions.  Granted, this is a stat that can be somewhat skewed as opposing teams throw more when teams like the Pats get a big lead.  Nevertheless, the Broncos allowed 314 receptions and the Texans just 294.  What really stands out is this:  the Patriots allowed opposing receivers a AFC-worst-by-far 70 receptions of 20 yards or more.  That's basically 5 a game.  That gets this fan having plum dreams of Green streaking down the sideline and Dalton finding him for 25-yard gains.  Yes I know it's hard to see the Bengals doing this to the Pats, but the stats support it.  To top that number off, the Pats also allowed an AFC-worst 27 receiving touchdowns.  I know it gets me excited too.  Advantage:  Play the Patriots.

RB Benjarvis Green-Ellis vs the Opposing Run Defense

A catalyst for the Bengals late-season success, the Law Firm won't find easy running lanes against any of the three opponents.  The Broncos allowed an AFC-low 3.6 yards per carry, and the Patriots were the only one of the three to allow over 4 yards per carry on average.  Tied for the league lead with the Broncos are the Steelers, and Green-Ellis turned in a career-worst performance last week against Pittsburgh, getting less than a yard per carry.  Last week, the Texans shut down Adrian Peterson, and with no insult intended, Green-Ellis is nowhere near Peterson's 2012 season.  In week 9 against the Broncos, BJGE played his last bad game until last week's stinker against the Steelers.  Put all of this together, and though it's not easy to run against any of the three, it appears a little easier to run on the Patriots.  Advantage:  Play the Patriots

Bengals Suspect Pass Defense vs Opposing Quarterback

Here is where it gets murky.  We know that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as future Hall-of-Famers and both are having seasons typical of their pedigrees.  We've seen both QB's carve the Bengals up over the last decade and that the Bengals have never beaten either of them.  Both are dominating the passing stat categories like normal.  What you may not know is this:  Behind the Patriots and Broncos, the Texans are third in the AFC in yards per attempt, a much better measure of how efficiently a team passes the ball than sheer yardage.  Schaub doesn't possess the gaudy numbers of the other QB's but he doesn't need them so long as RB Arian Foster is beside him in the backfield running like crazy.  Schaub also possesses WR Andre Johnson,proven Bengal-killer who surpasses any receiver on either team even though he may be on the downside of a superstar career.  Yes, it would probably better suit Leon Hall and Co. to play the Texans but it's not as big an advantage as it initially appears.  Advantage:  Play the Texans but it's not as big as it appears.

Other Considerations

The Patriots needed last-second heroics to fend off Jacksonville, Denver demolished Cleveland, and Houston got wiped out at home by the Vikings.  Advantage:  Avoid the Broncos.

It's wintertime and the Bengals don't play well in the cold.  Houston is indoors, New England and Denver could be brutal.  Advantage:  Play the Texans.

Road trip for optimistic Bengals fan:  There's nothing all right about New England in January.  There's nothing all right about Houston anytime.  Denver is always cool and it's ski season.  Advantage:  Big advantage play the Broncos.

In summary, the only reason to play the Broncos involves ski bunnies.  The Broncos are not the same team who came from behind and beat the Bengals, they look like legit Super Bowl contenders.  Though Houston would seem the best bet initially, remember J.J. Watt had his breakout game against the Bengals in the playoffs last season. Don't forget the score of last year's playoff game: the Bengals are improved but are they that much better than last season?   Even without LB Brian Cushing, the Bengals will have a hard time moving the ball against the Texans, especially since the Bengals haven't had tons of success moving the ball against anyone in the month of December.  As hard as it is to say so, the Bengals best matchup may be against the Patriots.  Believe me, that seems impossible to say.  Remember, this team lost at home to the Cardinals and the big win over the Texans notwithstanding, has been very average in December.  That said, I'll be rooting for the Texans and Broncos to win.  This would mean a win over New England would put the Bengals at Texans in the next round.  It doesn't hurt to dream does it?

If you have an interesting New Year's Resolution, pass it along and I'll mention it here or on the radio somewhere.  Happy New Year!! Enjoy the night responsibly and enjoy Sunday's game.  We get to talk football for at least one more week.  Who Dey!!

Playoffs and Pro Bowlers: Bengals Efforts Pay Off This Week

In what was an ugly mistake-marred affair in which the Steelers made the last mistake, the Cincinnati Bengals secured the sixth and final playoff spot.  The uneven performance was a game that the Bengals seem to have a knack for winning:  ugly and lacking for offense.  We will never know why Ben Roethlisberger chucked the ball downfield with less than a minute remaining instead of playing for overtime.  Though it seems to have cost the Steelers the game, it was just the last of multiple mishaps on the day by both teams, and thus it is the one that sticks out.

What else are we talking about?  Why does Marvin Lewis go for it on 4th and 22 instead of trying the 51-yard field goal with the wind at his back?  If that doesn't make you scratch your head, then Marvin calling for a 56-yard field goal attempt against the wind added to it will make you Dutch rub yourself.  Despite these kind of things that makes us on the outside wonder WTF? , the Bengals overcame and stole the win in Pittsburgh.

For more good news, Bengals WR A.J. Green and DT Geno Atkins will represent the team in the Pro Bowl.  These guys are definitely the superstars and they deserve the nod.  I can't say that I think anyone else on the roster was greatly snubbed.  Though one would expect a playoff team to have more than two Pro Bowlers, the Pro Bowl selections were fair to the Bengals and it is a testament to this being a team that buys into the the concept rather than the individual efforts. 

Cincinnati has locked in the final wild-card spot and will play all playoff games on the road.  As it stands now the wild-card game will likely be in New England barring a series of conditions evolving that would send the Bengals to Denver or Houston.  This week's game against the Ravens may be meaningless in the standings but it means this to the fans:  Beating Baltimore proves the Bengals can beat a playoff team and it builds momentum going into the playoffs. The Bengals are simply too young to bench guys for a week, the freshmen and sophmore Bengals need the snaps and the confidence boost.

This game is nearing a sellout and is the last chance to see this year's Bengals in Cincinnati. Support this team by getting out to the game.  You don't have to like the owner, but Bengals fans have a lot to celebrate and most important to me, the game is now a 4:15 game.  I love those games, you get to sleep in and still have way too much time to tailgate. 

Happy New Year.  If you have any NFL-related New Year's resolutions or a resolution that you just have to share, pass it on and if it's original I will bring it up on the air or in the blog.  Until the Ravens game, enjoy the holiday break.  Who Dey!!

Bengals Need To Knock Off Roethlisberger and Steelers To Prove They're Growing Up

The Cincinnati Bengals find themselves in control of their playoff destiny after 15 weeks of NFL football.  With the come-from-behind wins by the Bengals and Dallas Cowboys last week, the orange-and-black enjoy a one-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers for the final playoff spot in the AFC.  A win by the Bengals on Sunday eliminates Pittsburgh and gives the Bengals at least a wild-card spot with a chance to win the division the following Sunday against the Ravens.  A Bengals loss draws the Bengals and Steelers to a tie record-wise but Pitttsburgh would own the head-to-head tiebreaker with two wins over the Bengals this season.  A loss would find the Bengals praying for miracles in week 17 including a must-win over the Ravens and a Steelers loss to the Browns.  Had the Bengals preserved wins over either the Cowboys, Dolphins, or Browns, they would have already sewn up the wild-card with a great chance of winning the division.  Losses Do Haunt!!

Time to Look at The Numbers:

5-15: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' all-time record against Pittsburgh. 

4-5: Lewis' record in Pittsburgh.  His last wins coming in 2009 sweeping the season series.

10-5:  QB Andy Dalton's NFL road record

0-3:  Dalton vs. Pittsburgh

14-4:  Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger against the Bengals 

227.4: Passing yardage average for the 17th ranked Bengals passing offense

180.6:  Passing yardage allowed by the Steelers top-ranked pass defense

1:  Rank of the Steelers overall defense

18: Rank of the Bengals offense

47: Sacks by the Bengals for the season, 1 short of the team record.

Most importantly, this game gives this version of the Bengals a chance to distance themselves from Bengal teams of the past.  Andy Dalton's Bengals really don't have a signature win, for that matter they don't currently own a win against a playoff team just like last season.  A win additionally places a stamp on the maturation of Andy Dalton's Bengals.  A loss renders this season bland similar to the string of 8-8 seasons Marvin Lewis had to start his tenure and does not yield any indication of progress over last season's team.  A win signifies this "young" team has finally arrived.  This team won't be young forever and this is the game that they need to win to move forward in more than baby steps.  They aren't taken serious as playoff contenders, and won't be until they can get a big win.  This is their chance.

\On a less critical note, Merry Christmas.  It has been an honor to cover the Bengals for SportsBlog and am loving every minute of it.  Thank you for stopping by this little corner of Bengal Nation, it has been a thrill watching the readership grow.  Nothing but the best to you and yours, may your Christmas be blessed.  I hope I'm spending my Christmas looking at possible playoff road trips.  Also, give the guys at the Pig Pickers Show a shoutout. They're a lot of fun and you might pick up a little something for your office pool.

Late note, can't wait to see former UK great and Hard Knocks star John Conner suit up for the Bengals this week.  I've always been a fan, but here's to a speedy recovery for fullback and fellow Hard Knocks star Chris Pressley.

Who Dey!!

The Kids Are All Right: Bengals Youth Movement Fuels Playoff Push

As the Bengals drive towards the playoffs for the second consecutive season and third out of four seasons, much as been written about the youth and the bright future ahead for the team.  Everybody talks about Andy Dalton and A.J. Green and rightfully so.  Green has ascended to superstar status and Dalton is firmly planted as the team's leader, commanding the huddle with the moxy of a 10-year veteran.  Since it is Christmas, let's take a look at the kids who don't get the press but figure huge in the Bengals success.

Santa Claus

The man who keeps on giving?  It appears to be Bengals scouting "consultant" Bill Tobin.  His son Duke is the Bengals veteran Director of Player Personnel, but the last four drafts have the stamp of Tobin.  The Bengals have entered each draft with a plan and have been rather successful.  The 2009 and 2011 drafts have been particularly successful for the Bengals, and Tobin has been integral.  Remember, Tobin drafted Peyton Manning for the Colts and a lot of the surrounding pieces.  Bill Polian gets most of the credit, but Tobin developed the blueprint for Indy's success.

Toys That No One Wanted

Vontaze Burfict-from certain top-10 to the scrap heap.  Burfict ended his final college season in freefall.  This freefall took Burfict from certain millions to rookie minimum.  Burfict is second on the team in tackles and this undrafted rookie free agent has nothing but a bright future in front of him.  The Bengals took a character-issue gamble once again and this one could wind up being the biggest payoff yet.

Danny "Boom" Herron- Since making the active roster two weeks ago, Herron has been a key player on special teams in the last two games, getting a punt block that fueled the Bengals comeback against the Eagles.  Drafted at the end of this year's draft, Herron was a cut-day cut and not picked up by anyone.  After spending the first part of the season on the Bengals practice squad, Herron was promoted to the active roster before the Dallas game and contributed immediately. 

Andrew Hawkins- In his second NFL season, our "Little Hawk" has had a road to the NFL that is nothing short of a testament to dedication.  Passed over by multiple leagues, Hawkins made the best of his shot on Michael Irvin's reality show, coming in third.  In terms of hard roads to the NFL, only former Bengals SS Kevin Kaesviharn comes to mind in terms of people who kept the dream alive and eventually made it.  Hawk's speed has been a benefit to a Bengals team still without a true second receiver.

The Georgia Boys

Besides superstar ex-Bulldog A.J. Green, the Bengals have a slew of ex-Bulldogs making big impact and oddly enough, they are all fourth-rounders.  2011 third-rounder Clint Boling has been excellent at LG in place of Trevelle Wharton, who went down on the Bengals third snap of the preseason.  Boling has solidified the position and has shown improvement each week.  2012 fourth-rounder TE Orson Charles looked fine replacing the injured FB Chris Pressley Thursday night.  Charles has had some big catches as a rookie this season and should stick on the roster for a while.  2010 fourth-rounder Geno Atkins needs no introduction, he is a Top- and an All-Pro in the eyes of many.  The Bengals have lacked a dominant sack-monster for years, and Atkins seems to be the answer.  Keeping Atkins in Cincinnati for the rest of his career should be at the top of this offseason's list of priorities.

Honorable mention goes to steady vet and Georgia alum Robert Geathers.

A Georgia Bulldog shoutout also goes to 2008 Georgia Bulldog and Bengal fourth-rounder Dennis "Number 74 is reporting as an eligible receiver" Roland.  He will catch a pass and score someday, I'm keeping the dream alive.

The Legos-Steady Building Blocks

Kevin Zeitler-Zeitler has been almost outstanding as a rookie starting RG.  He has surpassed anyone's expectations of him at this point in the season.  I will admit I was a little disappointed we took Zeitler over David DeCastro, but the Bengals look like they know what they are doing at this point.  Zeitler and 2009 first-rounder Andre Smith have made the right side of the line Benjarvis Green-Ellis' go-to side for big yards.

Carlos Dunlap-At times dominant and at others not so much, Dunlap displays enough flashes of brilliance to stay in the lineup and leave those watching wishing he did it all the time. Dunlap has definitely shed the unmotivated tag that hurt his draft status in 2010 out of Florida. 

Dre Kirkpatrick-Not enough time on the field to reach a veridict, but what little we've seen of the rookie cornerback leaves hope for the best.  Health is Kirkpatrick's biggest issue to this point:  Dre began the season injured and ended it on injured reserve. 

Jermaine Gresham-Another youngster who shows flashes of brilliance.  His one-handed catch in the Dallas game is a season-highlight reel maker.  Gresham has improved each of his three seasons and finds himself on the verge of cracking the list of elite tight ends.

All of these guys, plus the veterans will be a critical part of Sunday's Steeler game.  Even if the Bengals are denied a playoff trip,optimism remains high amongst the Bengal faithful that this team is turning the corner and these guys and the draft strategy are the key components as to why. 

On another note, the Bengals-Ravens game is "within sellout range".  Could be rocking at Paul Brown next Sunday if the Bengals have a shot at the division next Sunday.  That's a discussion for later though, there's another game the Bengals need to win if you haven't heard. 

The Bengals Final Playoff Push: What Do The Bengals Want For Christmas?

With their ugly 34-13 win against the Eagles Thursday night, the Bengals remain in the playoff hunt.  Some early Christmas presents loom for the Bengals on the NFL schedule Sunday.  Several scenarios need to happen for the Bengals to make the playoffs after last week's missed opportunity against Dallas.  A quick look at what Marvin wants for Christmas:

Top of the Wish List

1. Dallas beats Pittsburgh.  This does not clinch anything this week.  It does give the Bengals a leg up in the overall standings, but next week against Pittsburgh matters most.  If the Steelers lose this and the Bengals win next week, then the Bengals can wrap up the wild card next week.

Stocking Stuffers

2. Titans beat the Jets.  This loss would be the eighth loss for the Jets and would eliminate them entirely from any wild-card shot.  As bad as the Jets have been, they could get to 9-7 and knock the Bengals out of the playoffs with a better AFC record.

3. Denver beats Baltimore.  A win by Denver against Baltimore keeps the Bengals faint hopes of winning the division and getting a home game alive.  Basically, the Ravens have to lose out and the Bengals have to win out.  With four division wins, Baltimore owns the tie-breaker against the Bengals.

Some other scenarios exist involving strength of schedule, but ultimately the Bengals have to beat Pittsburgh next week either way.  The Steelers losing to Dallas gives the Bengals a shot if they were to lose next week to the Steelers but a lot of week 17 scenarios are in play.  The Bengals control their own destiny and must beat the Steelers next week.  If this team can't beat the Steelers they don't deserve a playoff shot and as a fan I can live with that.

Other notes

-Steady veteran FB Chris Pressley is on crutches and is scheduled for an MRI early next week.  TE Orson Charles was serviceable as a fullback but it's expected that the Bengals will look at fullbacks next week.  One possibility is Cincinnati native, UK alum, and Hard Knocks legend John Connor.  If he is recovered from his injury that got him waived from the Jets, he would be a fullback threat that the Bengals haven't had the luxury of having since wide-load fullback Jerermi Johnson.

-One thing for certain, Marvin Lewis says that Brian Leonard will not see time at fullback.

-Nice punt "block" by rookie and quickly-becoming fan fave Danny "Boom" Herron.

-Kicker Josh Brown has been nothing short of awesome in his two-game stint as kicker in the wake of the Mike Nugent injury.  The short kick that the Bengals recovered was nothing short of brilliant.  It will be interesting to see what happens next week when Nugent is healthy.  Nugent has been fine, but at this point Brown seems to be an upgrade.

It's nice to enjoy a Sunday watching everyone else after the Bengals have already taken care of business.  Enjoy the Sunday, have a great early week, and don't fight any Steeler fans regardless of what they might say. 

Go Cowboys!!

Bengals Down Eagles On Rapid-Fire Turnovers

In a game that played out in three chapters, the Bengals downed the Eagles 34-13 in a game that was nowhere near as dominant on the Bengals' part as the score might indicate.  The Bengals capitalized on 2 early Eagles turnovers to get up 13-0 early and pretty much sputtered after that point.  After going 3 and out to start the third quarter, the Bengals took a costly roughness penalty and two straight sacks of QB Andy Dalton and put themselves on the verge of implosion.  With a fresh set of downs, great field position on the Cincinnati 47 after a rare bad Kevin Huber punt, and the Bengals rattled, the season seemed over.  Following are a smattering of the texts I received in that period:

"F@#$&*n stupid.  Going to sleep"-Beth

"They are who we thought they were."-Mike

"Falling apart once again with the playoffs at stake.  Marvin su$ks." - Chris

"Marvin can't win a game that matters."-Ashley

Even myself, the fan that I am, had left our local Bengals watering hole and retreated to my living room where I was back and forth between the game and the Seinfeld episode where Jerry dates "loser" Christine Taylor.  All that said, with 5:58 left in the third the Eagles were 1st and 10 on the Bengals' 47 yard line.  Following is a sequence that you couldn't replicate in Madden 13 with the level set on freshman skill level concerning the Eagles next five snaps.

1.Foles INT results in Bengal TD.
2.8 yard completion.
3.Foles fumble recovered by Wallace Gilberry and returned for a TD.
4.Foles 16-yard completion to TE Harbor fumbled, recovered by blog fave Chris Crocker.
5.Short kickoff fumbled by Eagles special teamer, recovered by Bengals, set up another TD.

All of this, 21 points in 3:40 of clock time and 5 Eagle snaps. It's like the Eagles were firing turnovers out of Howitzer.   Pretty impressive by any stretch.  What we have on our hands is a moral loss.  The Bengals won this game in two three-minute stretches, otherwise they played bad enough to lose to this Eagles team that is flat awful.  The Bengals lead the NFL in 1st quarter scoring 106-35 and are still a pretty flat team after that.  Scored on their opening drives in their last several games and then went flat.  Blew a ten-point fourth quarter lead to the Cowboys last week.  This Eagles game seemed scripted to last week's game but the Bengals pulled it out.

Dalton took six sacks up until the turnover sequence in the third quarter.  The O-line took massive penalties, 9 to be exact, all game long.  Maybe the worst offensive line perfomance in the Marvin Lewis era, and this was supposed to be a team strength.  All of this with their playoff life at stake, so don't get too proud Bengalmaniacs.  This might be the worst win in recent Bengals memory. 

Enough of the negative, let's look at the positive.  RB Benjarvis Green-Ellis had another stellar performance on his way to a franchise-record fourth straight 100-yard rushing game.  The O-line, particularly the right side, did step up and get Law Firm some room to move.  The Bengals go to 8-6 and have 10 days to get ready for the Steelers in Pittsburgh next Sunday.  This game pretty much seals the fate of both winner and loser so here's hoping the Bengals use the 10 days to get the game plan of all game plans together.

Glad the game is behind us, use the weekend to get your Christmas shopping done.  Also, if there's a child in your life, give him/her a great big hug.  Thanks to sheer evil, there's at least 20 parents tonight who won't be able to do so.

Season's greetings!

Bengals Look to Lasso the Cowboys

The streaking Cincinnati Bengals will welcome the 6-6 Dallas Cowboys to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday for their once-every-eight-years visit to the Queen City.  The Cowboys, after a rough start, find themselves in the thick of the NFC East and wild card races and this win means as much to their playoff chances as it does to the Bengals.  After winning a struggle in San Diego last week, the Bengals remain one game out of the AFC 2nd wild card slot. 

The Cowboys offense is high-powered to the point that it is a fantasy footballer's delight.  QB Tony Romo has multiple weapons in guys like WR Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and TE Jason Witten.  Particularly, Bryant over the last month is looking more and more like the Randy Moss heir many pundits labeled Bryant out of college.  Bryant seems to have put his troubles behind him and has been absolutely dominant on the field.  Bengals' corners Leon Hall and Adam Jones will have their hands full preventing Bryant from another big game. 

In the current four-game winning streak, the Bengals have only allowed opponents eight trips to the red zone and a single touchdown.  However, if there are moral losses as well as moral victories, the Bengals had a moral loss last week at San Diego.  As nice as it is to win on the road against anyone, we must be concerned that the Bengals simply did not look dominant in any facet last week and as far as I'm concerned they weren't exactly great in the second half against the Raiders.  New captains Andy Dalton and Rey Maualuga will need to relight the fire that had this team playing with so much urgency throughout November for the Bengals to emerge victorious.

A positive has been the much-anticipated emergence of RB Benjarvis Green-Ellis as an offensive force for the Bengals over the last month.  Green-Ellis was solid again last week and has really forced defenses to finally account for him in defensive scheming.  In the last three weeks, the Cowboys have turned used-up RB Michael Turner and no-name rookie RB's Alfred Morris and Bryce Brown into All-Pro's, giving up at least 100 yards to each on the ground.

I would normally recommend Jason Witten as fantasy TE gold, but watching the last two Cowboys' games shows him being used in more protection packages.  This is at least part of the reason that Romo has looked better the last two weeks, but Bryant is a good pick.  I expect RB Demarco Murray to struggle on Sunday against the now eighth-ranked Bengals defense. 

On the injury front, kicker Josh Brown will be kicking in place of Mike Nugent.  Dre Kirkpatrick and Cedric Peerman are out for the Bengals.  A face that will be happy to be seen is that of Kyle Cook, expected to debut Sunday.  Jeff Faine has been waived and Trevor Robinson has improved fast as the Center, but expect Cook to play a lot.  For the Cowboys, NT Jay Ratliff is out, and familiar-face former Bengal G Nate Livings is a go for Dallas this week.

If you're going, bring a rainsuit and a toy.  It's the annual toy drive and there's a child out there who would really appreciate the gift.  If you're not going, it's actually on this week in the Queen City.  This should be an entertaining game on both sides, watching the suddenly-dominant Bengals defense battled the high-powered Dallas offense will be a treat.  I think the streaking Bengals inch closer to a playoff spot and Dallas' playoff hopes die on Sunday.

Bengals 31 Cowboys 20

Extinguish the Bolts: Bengals Look to Rout San Diego

Andrew Whitworth's wallet is a little lighter this week after taking down a couple of Raiders, but the message is clear, this team has each other's back.  The chemistry and cohesiveness that this team has suddenly developed has manifested itself in 3 straight convincing wins with excellent execution on both sides of the ball.  The Bengals roll into San Diego looking for a fourth straight win and their first California road win since 2003.  The Bengals should be looking for revenge, in 2006 the Chargers dropped 42 second-half points on the Bengals and took them out of playoff contention.  In 2009, grieving from the tragic loss of WR Chris Henry, the Chargers knocked the Bengals out of a playoff bye.  

The Chargers enter this week's matchup in a lot of trouble.  It's a near-certainty that Head Coach Norv Turner will be fired at season's end, if not before.  With a lame-duck coach comes lame-duck execution, Phillip Rivers has fallen from the ranks of the elite and has turned into a Palmeresque INT machine.    The receiving core has been close to awful:  Antonio Gates is having a career-worst kind of season, Robert Meachem just hasn't worked out, and Malcolm Floyd has been the only reliable target.   The defensive front-four of the Bengals should have a field day getting to Rivers on Sunday, expect to hear Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson's names called out repeatedly. 

This game will be the third straight game the Bengals have faced a former first-rounder: Keith Rivers for the Giants, Palmer for the Raiders, and now veteran Takeo Spikes for the Chargers.  Spikes' veteran savvy could prove troublesome for G Trevor Robinson, thus it is important that Whitworth and the O-line protect Dalton and keep Spikes from going sack-crazy on Dalton.  Getting RB Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman running effectively will go a long way towards keeping Spikes out of the backfield. 

This game will be blacked out in San DIego with 11,000 seats remaining so this game should feel right at home for the Bengals.  It's not a stat to be proud of but each game of the current Bengals streak has been blacked out locally.  The San Diego community has turned on this team in a similar fashion to the 2010 Bengals. 

As far as interesting matchups, watch All-World cornerback Quentin Jammer try to defend All-World WR A.J. Green.  Yes, A.J.'s streak is over, but he opened the door for Mohamed Sanu(banished to IR for the year as of Friday) to grab 2 TD and should have had a third.  Andrew Hawkins doesn't appear to be ready just yet, so it looks like personal-fave WR Marvin Jones will get his first start on Sunday.  Before his injury, you could see the game-to-game improvement from Jones and one must hope his injury didn't destroy his learning curve.  Jammer can defend the best, and Green can burn the best.  This matchup is going to be fun.  The Bengals will need a WR to step up and it looks to be Jones as well as a big game from Jermaine Gresham to get the win.

This is a must-win for both teams.  The Chargers are trying to avoid losing 7 of 8 and the Bengals are looking to extend their playoff push.  The Chargers were in position to win last week at home against the Ravens and couldn't finish it off.  That loss seems to have taken the Super out of SuperChargers and destroyed the team psyche.  This is a Bengals team that has overcome a lot of the letdown/psyche issues of Bengals teams past.  The team won't overlook this game and they won't let the West Coast Curse get them down.  The Men will fly home a winner for the fourth time in a row.

Bengals 27 Chargers 17