DECEMBER 28, 2008
The last time the Chiefs played the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, they were 9-0 and Cincinnati's Chad Johnson guaranteed a win that came to pass.
Five years later in this season finale, Chad is Oucho Cinco and probably won't play and the only guarantee is that both teams are going to have double-digit losing seasons. The Bengals.com roundtable thinks the Bengals can finish with three straight wins, but only if they break a season-long trend and score more than 20 points Sunday.
"I like the way the Bengals are playing. I really think they've got something to build on with that defense," says The Guru, a former top NFL football exec. "But they're going to have to score more than 14 points against the Chiefs, and I don't know if they can."
"The arrow next to Kansas City is pointed up," says The Scout, a personnel man who visits different professional leagues. "Even though they don't have a general manager yet with a move made before the end of the season, they know there are going to be changes and they've got a young nucleus that has lost a lot of close games.
"The Bengals have a lot of question marks, but they're at home and it's going to come down to who is going to play it out and who's going to play out the string. Both teams have done a good job with that. The Chiefs put up 31 points on Miami last week in miserable conditions and the Bengals have won two straight."
"The Chiefs offense can come out in either a throwback, run-oriented set or something you would see out of a college playbook with the 'Pistol Offense,' where the quarterback is in a short shotgun and they spread the field with backs and receivers," says The Eye, an NFL scout that studies personnel in both conferences. "I think the Chiefs come out and pound it and try to run it because the Bengals still have the perception they can't stop the run, even though they've done a pretty good job this year."
Indeed, the Bengals are giving up 4.0 yards per rush, the fewest in the six seasons under Marvin Lewis, 3.6 in the last 10 games, and 3.5 November and December.
With the Chiefs averaging 4.9 per rush in amassing the 11th-most ground yards in the league, the lines have been drawn.
The Bengals are coming off their best rushing day of the season, 191 yards against Cleveland's 3-4 with a more diverse than usual running game of powers and counters, and Livings had another encouraging game in his fifth NFL start. He's not a gymnast, but he's strong, smart, competitive and on Sunday he pulled as much as Eric Steinbach ever did. He's showing enough here that the Bengals could have some flexibility at right tackle next year with Andrew Whitworth moving from left guard as an option.
"I think the Bengals have to get their line squared away. That's got to be the top priority for next year," The Guru says. "They have to find out if those guys underachieved or if they overrated them."
"Tough call," he says. "Do you give a 30ish receiver that much? But he has been your best player. You can't lose sight of that."
The lack of a pass rush has killed the Chiefs on third down, where they are ranked next to last in the NFL.
The veteran Thornton could draw another start at end, but he'll also be at tackle on passing downs. He and his front seven partners not only have to be wary of Thigpen pulling the ball down and running, but also of quarterback draws and option keeps. After 92 durable and reliable games in the Bengals middle, Sunday could be Thornton's final bow at PBS after coming off a two-sack game in Cleveland.
It certainly is a different secondary than the one the Bengals started against Gonzalez last year. Cornerback Leon Hall is the only returning starter.
"Charles is scary athletic," The Eye says. "He can hurt you and quickly. They don't just use him on third down. He comes in at any point and they try to get him the ball with screens and draws. They throw it a bunch, but they're built to run it with two backs and two tight ends."