Roster shuffle continues

The Bengals’ roster has been in a constant state of flux recently.

Starting free safety Chris Crocker is out at least this week and probably longer with an ankle injury, meaning rookie free agent defensive back Rico Murray will stay on the active roster for now. That makes a whopping four undrafted free agent rookies that have played for Cincinnati this year (Quan Cosby, Tom Nelson and Dan Skuta being the others).

Murray was promoted from the practice squad last week and defensive tackle Shaun Smith was cut. However, the team announced on Wednesday that it re-signed Smith and released wide receiver Maurice Purify. It’s a bit surprising because Purify was such a standout on special teams. The team is hoping that Purify clears waivers so they can re-sign him to the practice squad.

The big news here is that second-year wide receiver Jerome Simpson will finally get a chance to show what he can do. He will move into the No. 4 WR spot and might give the Bengals some much-needed athletic ability on the outside. Hopefully he can prove people like me that called him a bust wrong. Simpson was a second-round pick in 2008 and it will be interesting to see if he can make the most of the opportunity.

Something else to monitor going into the showdown at San Diego on Sunday is the health of rookie running back Bernard Scott. The Bengals need him to play for his kickoff returning abilities if nothing else. Andre Caldwell is as bad as they come at returning kicks and Cosby doesn’t seem all that great in the role either. (I love Cosby as a punt returner though.) I also like what Scott brings as a running back, but with Cedric Benson and Larry Johnson, Scott is definitely needed most as a kickoff returner right now.

As for the Chargers game this week, the Bengals are 6.5-point underdogs for the second straight week. The Vikings certainly didn’t have trouble covering that spread last week, but I think the Bengals will show up ready to play this time around. I know a lot of Who Dey fans aren’t feeling good about this game – and rightfully so – but it would be a huge win if the Bengals can pull it off. Suddenly, they would be tied with the Chargers for the second-best record in the AFC and would own the tiebreaker over the Chargers if the teams ended up tied at the conclusion of the regular season. That would mean a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Then again, if the Bengals go out and lay another egg this week, the only things fans will be concerned about will be beating the Chiefs at home next week (Dec. 27) and just getting in the playoffs. (The Bengals will clinch the AFC North championship with any win in their last three games, or any loss from the Ravens.)

So, at this point, they could earn the coveted No. 2 seed, or they could potentially miss the playoffs altogether. Yes, it will probably be somewhere in between. They’ll likely make the playoffs as the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the AFC. However, everything can change with a strong performance in San Diego. It’s time for the Bengals to make a statement in a game outside of their division. Well, there was the Green Bay game this year on the road, but that seems like so long ago (because it was). The Bengals seem to be going in the wrong direction and a win over the Chargers is exactly what the team needs from a confidence perspective. They need to get momentum going in their favor if they want to make any noise in the postseason (presuming they get there, which is no sure thing with the way they’ve looked lately).