Hey, it’s one of those times I’m thrilled to be wrong.
I thought the Bengals were among the “walking dead” of NFL teams this year when they had a 3-5 record. But suddenly they’ve won three straight — all in blowout fashion — and are tied with the Steelers at 6-5 and for the final playoff spot in the AFC (the Steelers currently own the tiebreaker due to their win over the Bengals; the teams will play again this season in Pittsburgh).
Andy Dalton and AJ Green are putting up incredible numbers … Jermaine Gresham too. The offensive line has turned out to be solid, despite losing two starters in center Kyle Cook and left guard Travelle Wharton before the season even started. Last year’s fourth-round pick, Clint Boling, has been good as Wharton’s replacement. And free-agent signing Jeff Faine and undrafted rookie free agent Trevor Robinson have at least held the fort down at the ever-important center position. Andrew Whitworth is one of the best left tackles in the AFC, first-round pick Kevin Zeitler will be on every 2012 All-Rookie Team and right tackle Andre Smith is living up to his potential.
The emergence of Mohamad Sanu at wide receiver is also exciting for any Bengal fan.
Defensively, Cincinnati has one of the best lines in the league, led by tackle Geno Atkins and end Michael Johnson. The former has nine sacks and the latter has eight. That’s an impressive inside-out combination. And the Bengals have several other good players up front such as DT Domata Peko and DE Carlos Dunlap.
Linebacker is being held together by a thread and safety is still a huge issue (if Taylor Mays is getting playing time at safety, it’s a problem), but D-coordinator Mike Zimmer always finds a way to get the job done.
This will be a huge game at San Diego this Sunday. The Chargers (4-7) are still smarting from giving away a game against the Ravens last year and it will be interesting to see how they respond. They are usually tough to beat at home, but maybe the Bengals are getting them at the right time. If the Bengals win and go 7-5, I fully expect them to eventually sneak in the playoffs as a wildcard. If they lose and fall to 6-6, it’s going to be tough. I think they need to go at least 9-7 to get in.
The good news is they still have games left against Dallas and at Philadelphia. Not only are both of those teams struggling, especially the Eagles, but the Bengals have dominated the NFC East so far this year, winning at Washington and blowing out the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in Cincinnati.
I’ve been hard on Marvin Lewis, but credit goes out to him for having the Bengals in a legitimate position to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year.