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Elusive Tenth Win Leads to Division Title

This past Sunday, against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cincinnati Bengals clinched the AFC North Division with a 17-10 win over the now 3-12 Chiefs. The clinching win, which has given the Bengals their second 10 win season since the Bengals went to the Super Bowl in 1988 with a 12 win season, stops the Bengals recent skid. Starting in Oakland, the Bengals lost three of the five games they played prior to Sundays, giving ESPN even more reason to keep calling this team the Cardiac Cats.

In a game that most thought would end in a blowout, the Chiefs stayed with the Bengals the entire game until Leon Hall’s interception within the two minute warning to end the game. The biggest problem in the game was not that Carson Palmer was held under 150 yards passing, but that former USC and current Bengals rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga went down with a season-ending broken ankle, giving Rashad Jeanty and Brandon Johnson their chances to shine. Jeanty, who lost the starting position to Maualuga in the pre-season, is in his fourth year with the Bengals out of the University of Central Florida. Both Maualuga and Jeanty were pushing each other in the pre-season to perform and execute better. Maualuga eventually won out. Johnson has been a force on special teams and as a replacement for Keith Rivers when Rivers was injured earlier in the year.

Losing Maualuga for the final game of the year and the playoffs definitely hurts the Bengals as he had been a force with his 63 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. But if there is one man I want replacing Rey, its Jeanty. Maualuga won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player of the year in 2008 along with the CBS Defensive Player of the Year Award. Off the field issues don’t win you that award, on the field play does. Just because Maualuga had a history doesn’t write him off as being one of the biggest steals in this past year’s draft. To be able to push that type of player to be better, and lose the starting job by so little says a lot about the type of player you are.

The returns of Domata Peko and Chris Crocker on Wednesday will definitely help the defense, as Peko is one of the best tackles in the game when it comes to disrupting plays in the backfield and getting to the quarterback. Crocker is vital in the passing defense, which has lapsed since his injury. The defense this Sunday will have their hands full with the League’s third leading rusher in Thomas Jones and a collection of talent on the receiving end in Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, David Clowney and Dustin Keller. Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall will have their hands full, but as they have been all season, they will show up to shut down.

Following Sunday Night’s Prime Time game on NBC, the Bengals will most likely know who they will be facing in the first round. The San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts have first round byes and won’t be seeing anyone until that third weekend in January. More than likely, the first game will be at Paul Brown Stadium since the Bengals have a better record than every team vying for a wild card berth. Of the teams still alive, there are seven, I like the Bengals chances against them all at home. The only match up that I believe would pose as a challenge or threat would be a third rematch against the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers coming to Cincinnati for a playoff game brings back memories of the 2005 game in which Palmer went down with a destroyed knee courtesy Kimo Von Dream Killer. I would like to think that this game would be very different.

A rematch with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans is possible if the cards all fall in the right place. If the Bengals lose to the Jets, there could also be a possibility of the Bengals and Jets playing two weekends in a row. Still in the hunt, but with a lot of help needed are the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jets and Baltimore Ravens control their own destiny as if they win they’re in. There are ten different ways the Broncos can get in, three different ways for the Steelers and Texans to get in, five different ways the Jaguars can get in and only one way the Dolphins can get in. For the now 10-5 Bengals to clinch the AFC #3 seed, they need a win and a New England Patriots loss.

Back to Sunday’s game, the Jet’s have a blitz happy defense and the offensive line will need to protect Carson Palmer better than they have been, because this team can’t afford to lose their franchise quarterback the week before the playoffs. At the same time, Carson will need to be more efficient as throwing for 139 yards may not cut it against the Jets. He completed a high percentage of his throws, 17 of 25 which is a 68% completion percentage, but 139 yards passing as a former Heisman-winning franchise quarterback is unacceptable. Whether it is the inability to stretch the field or the lack of depth and skill at the wide receiver position besides Chad OchoCinco, the passing game needs to be on the same page as the running game.

A running game isn’t anything if the passing game isn’t in sync and the ability for play action isn’t there. Same goes for the passing game if Cedric Benson and Larry Johnson aren’t able to push through the Jets defense and scrounge up yards to keep the Bengal defense off the field. However way you spin it, this Sunday night, the Jets and Bengals will be fighting for every yard, pushing for that Wild Card Spot or that #3 seed.


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