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Bengals Can Clinch With Win; So Could Vikings

Before the Cincinnati Bengals played the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time, I wrote that the game between the two was the biggest game of the year. At the time, it was. A win against the Steelers would have given the Bengals a 5-0 record in their division, with one game, against the Cleveland Browns, left. With only the Browns left, as a Bengals fan, you had to feel pretty good about your chances of sweeping the division. After that, all the Bengals would have to do is stay at least a game ahead of both the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens and the division is theirs. The worst that the Bengals could give is to allow one, or both teams to tie them with overall records, and the Bengals would still be division champions.

It is now Week 14; the Bengals beat the Steelers and Browns and for the first time in franchise history, swept their division. After a few weeks, I’ve come to realize that the Pittsburgh game wasn’t the biggest game of the year. It’s still a very important division game, but not as important as this one. This year, the Bengals are fighting for one of the top seeds in the AFC, looking to receive a first round bye. The Bengals are out for respect from the league, the other teams and the players. All year, this team has been preaching the fact that they’re better than people give them credit. To this point, they have been.

A fluke loss to the Denver Broncos, two fumbles by Andre Caldwell against the Oakland Raiders, and a loss to the Houston Texans in which this team did not show up to play, have kept the Bengals from being undefeated this year. After a 9-3 start, the time has come for the Bengals to play with the big boys in the NFL. When I say big boys, I am talking about the Minnesota Vikings, the Indianapolis Colts, the San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints. Combined, the four teams have 43 wins, and five losses.

Now, waiting in the wings for this Sunday’s match up is the Minnesota Vikings. Perhaps the Bengals biggest regular season game of the year. This Sunday, Brett Favre will go up against the very first team he ever faced in the Cincinnati Bengals. Favre, who has led the Minnesota Vikings to a 10-2 record this year, can help his team cling the NFC North Division with a win against the "Cardiac Cats". The same can be said for the Bengals, as a win would give them their first AFC North Division title since 2005. There is more to this game than just the idea of clinching either team’s respective division, it is about credibility. This game is about the Vikings beating the team they are supposed to beat in the Bengals. It's about the Bengals stepping in, putting their hand up and saying, “No, not today. You Sir Mr. Favre and you Adrian Peterson will not run over us today”.

The Bengals games so far this season have been against teams with a combined 45-63 record. When the remaining four games added, that record goes to 73-83 through 12 games. So far, the Bengals have only played four teams that STILL have winning records. They lost to the Broncos and beat the Green Bay Packers. Still remaining are the Vikings and the Chargers. The last game of the season is against the New York Jets, and if they can rattle off a couple wins before then, they’ll play the Bengals with a winning percentage over .500.

Back to the main point, the Bengals biggest game of the year is this Sunday, against the Minnesota Vikings. If the Bengals want to be taken seriously, and be considered a Super Bowl contender, then a win against the third best team in the league is needed. If the Bengals can shut down Adrian Peterson like they’ve shut down other backs this season, then they’ll be able to shut down LaDainian Tomlinson. If the Bengals’ front four can put pressure on Brett Favre to allow the defensive backs to make plays, then look for the same to happen against Philip Rivers. If the Bengals can rise up to the challenge and shut down the Vikings and follow that up with a big win in San Diego, the Bengals will walk away from the regular season as the #2 seed in the playoffs. In doing so, they will receive a first round bye and an extra week to allow their players to heal up and get healthy.

If the Bengals do not beat the Vikings this week, then all Hell may break lose in Cincinnati. One loss could easily turn into four, and a 9-3 start would be ruined by a 9-7 finish. Looking toward 2010, the piled up losses and disappointment of 2009 could cause another dismal 4-11-1 season, even with Carson Palmer as the starting quarter back. Let’s hope that the Bengals will get it right this week, because I don’t want to live through another season like 2008, or 2002 for that matter when the Bengals were 2-14.

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