Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 12/16/11
Did Houston cook the Bengals golden goose last weekend? Zac Jackson: Yes and no. Is it cooked? It sure seems that way. But the injuries to Leon Hall and Carlos Dunlap cooked it more than Houston did, even though Cincinnati had every reason and every opportunity to win that game. The Bengals have to be sick that they didn't, and they have to go forward knowing they were good enough to compete for a playoff spot this year but probably not good enough to be a real contender. They're still the third-best team in their own division, but they have a lot of room to grow. Pat McManamon: Pretty much. Cincinnati had a very nice season, but losing a game the Bengals had so many chances to win pretty much kills their playoff chances. Cincinnati has winnable games against St. Louis and Arizona left, but the season finale is against Baltimore. Its at home, but the Ravens likely will be playing to keep their AFC North title hopes alive. The Ravens will need the game, which makes it tough for Cincinnati to get the 10th win it will need to be a playoff team. The Bengals have no reason to be disappointed, though. They have had a very good season, and they provided hope, a lot of hope, for the future. What can be said about Mike Holmgren's news conference? Jackson: I've asked all year what, exactly, it is that Mike Holmgren does and why he makes so much money to do it. In typical Browns fashion, the mess had already reached the five-alarm stage before Holmgren spoke publicly about it. Holmgren has to protect his coach, his players and the organization, and he certainly has every right to answer questions the way he wants to. But the explanation that no one on the Browns' sideline or in the booth saw the hit on Colt McCoy is puzzling at best and closer to downright laughable. Lying to your customers is never good. And the playoff tickets line? Wow. McManamon: Well it was unique. To say the least. Clearly Holmgren had been seething at criticism of his reign and team and approach, and of the way Colt McCoys concussion was handled. At some points he looked ready to explode a la Mt. St. Helens. The main problem: When things like that happen its tough to buy into Holmgrens claim that its not business as usual for the Browns. The other problem: Finding playoff tickets in 2016. Will Seneca Wallace's performance today say anything about Colt McCoy? Jackson: It very well could. If it does, a long December for the Browns is about to get longer. The Browns aren't committed to McCoy, but if Wallace comes in and thrives with the same personnel McCoy has been shaky with, it won't reflect well on McCoy's chances. The Browns really don't want to be going into the 2012 draft with no answer at quarterback, running back or wide receiver, but they're staring at that situation. McManamon: Sure, if Wallace shows some mastery of the offense, moves the ball and scores points. If that happens, red flags will go up as to why McCoy didnt. And if Wallace throws intermediate passes with more success, well we might know it wasnt the play-calling. Wallace isnt likely to win the game, but if he is successful where McCoy wasnt, well itll make for quite the quarterback evaluations come draft time. Baltimore and Pittsburgh have big road games this weekend. Will either lose? Jackson: The Chargers are more likely to win than the 49ers. The Chargers need the game, can attack down the field and have traditionally been a December team. The 49ers can't score, really have nothing to play for and will be playing a rested and angry Steelers team. These are the games the Steelers traditionally have won. McManamon: Pittsburghs defense will win in San Francisco. Period. No matter who plays quarterback. Pittsburgh needs the game; San Francisco doesnt. Baltimore has to prove its maturity by winning in San Diego. The Chargers are a far more difficult opponent for Baltimore than the 49ers are for Pittsburgh. This is the weekend when the Steelers again assert their superiority and take over first place in the division. Which of course means the season finale in Cleveland will be vital, which of course means Cleveland Browns Stadium will be loaded with folks waving Terrible Towels on Jan. 1. What happens with the Browns and Bengals? Jackson: The Bengals should win and win big against Kellen Clemens and the Rams. The Rams struggle in lots of areas, specifically in pass protection and pass coverage, and have nothing to play for. The Bengals need a win and need a breather in what's been a brutal schedule. They'll get both. It would be a stretch to pick the Browns to beat anybody at this point, but with another solid defensive effort they should be in the game. If Wallace can create some big plays, they should be in it down the stretch. McManamon: The Bengals bounce back to win their eighth game and beat the Rams. The Browns well even when they play well theres drama and controversy. Arizona has been playing well, Larry Fitzgerald is a receivers receiver and the Browns cant get out of their own way. Cleveland loses its last real chance to win this season.
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