For the Cincinnati Bengals to make the playoffs, they need to win their next three games. And that’s exactly what they are going to do in my opinion. Get ready for a three-game winning streak and a wildcard spot in the playoffs. (And then a first-round ass-kicking in the playoffs. But, hey, I’ll take it!)
The first hurdle of what should be a three-game string of victories is Sunday’s contest at Paul Brown Stadium against the 9-3 Houston Texans. Normally, I wouldn’t think this matchup would set up well for the Bengals. However, the Texans are down to their third-string quarterback – rookie fifth-round pick T.J. Yates out of North Carolina – and are also without the services of star wide receiver Andre Johnson and defensive end Mario Williams.
Yes, Yates played well in his starting debut in the Texans’ home win over the Atlanta Falcons last week, but now Bengals’ defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has film on Yates … and the prediction is pain. It won’t be a cakewalk for the Bengals (who are favored by 3 points) but I’m expecting a win. As good as the Texans have been this year, if the Bengals can't beat them while the Texans are forced to play their third-string rookie QB on the road, Marvin Lewis and Co. should just pack 'em up and go home for the winter. This is a game the Bengals absolutely must win.
I also fully expect Cincinnati to go on the road the following week and beat a hapless St. Louis Rams team that is probably anxiously waiting for the season to end. The Rams are 2-10 and their record is not misleading in the least. They are clearly one of the worst teams in the NFL. If the Bengals can’t beat them – even on the road – then Cincinnati deserves to miss the postseason. However, I think “The Dalton Gang” is going to go into St. Louis and win that one in the dome.
If they’re able to beat the Texans and Rams, the Bengals will be 9-5 going into their home game against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are a warm-weather dome team that will be coming to the Queen City in late December. You do the math. Oh, and their quarterback situation is a mess. They do have a somewhat-respectable 5-7 record, but that’s because they play well at home and play in a weak division. I think the Bengals will roll at PBS over the Cardinals. It won't be an easy game, but the Bengals will be heavily-favored.
If it all pans out, the Bengals will have 10 wins heading into the season-finale against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. Both teams could legitimately have playoff spots locked up by then and will simply be jockeying for position (or resting players). Or, if the Bengals do lose one of the three games I’m predicting them to win, they will still have the chance to reach 10 wins and make the playoffs with a win over the Ravens. The Bengals always play Baltimore tough in Cincinnati (especially since Lewis took over in 2003) and the Bengals nearly beat the Ravens in Baltimore earlier this year. So, even that game is very winnable. A four-game winning streak to end the season with an 11-5 record isn't a ridiculous notion, but it's unlikely and I'm going with 10-6. (I predicted 6-10 at the beginning of the year ... clearly a typo. Or maybe I'm dyslexic and didn't realize it until now.
Bottom line? If the Bengals win three of their four remaining games this regular season, they will be in the playoffs (barring something unforeseen). Pretty amazing considering the low expectations everyone had for this team entering the season.