Even until about 17 days ago this one looked to be one of those locks in that cozy stretch between the New England and Baltimore games. But now Sunday for the Bengals has gone from very winnable to very tenuous and if they don't show up they'll end up going back down Niagara Falls.
But after switching on the lights in the film room, the Bengals.com roundtable is split on the game with the Bills that features two teams crippled with injuries and hurting defenses.
The Guru gives the edge to the Bengals because of the Bills' inability to muster any kind of offense and The Chief sides with Buffalo because the Bills are at home and have gathered some momentum with three wins in their last four games and two straight while the Bengals haven't put together any kind of skein and are 0-3 on the road.
"The biggest thing is where is Cincinnati's head?" asks The Guru, a former top football executive for an NFL club. "I think Marvin has them playing hard. I thought they gave very good effort against Pittsburgh, but I think the decision not to go for it on fourth-and-one (from the Pittsburgh 2) really hurt them. That's the big play in the game. You can't let the Steelers get up on you like that and I'm not sure what kind of message that sends. But I think the intensity they played with in that game showed that Marvin still has their attention.
"This is a winnable game on the road and it's one Cincinnati has to win simply because they haven't won on the road yet and because they have to start putting something together."
The Chief, a personnel director for an NFL team not in the Bengals division, loves the Buffalo special teams and what head coach Dick Jauron has done in the face of a Bengalish spate of injuries.
"They've got a slew of guys on injured reserve (nine) and yet they've hung together and have played pretty well as a balanced team," The Chief says. "They haven't played pretty well on defense because they don't let people score. They've got the ability to run the ball, they're at home, and they can dictate field position with their special teams. They play hard and have an opportunistic defense."
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
QB Carson Palmer vs. Bills DC Perry Fewell
"The Bengals need to spread the Bills out. Try to throw the ball around, score points, and make Buffalo get into an offensive game," The Guru says. "They want to shorten the game. The Bills can't keep up scoring with the Bengals. Cincinnati has to get their nickel defense on the field. Buffalo is vulnerable with that third receiver on the field. Their cover guys aren't very big and they don't match up well with Cincinnati's big receivers."
Jones looks like he's settled down after a choppy early season. He was a big factor in running the ball against the Jets two weeks ago and last week he helped the Bengals pitch a rare shutout against the Steelers' sack-happy blitz.
DiGiorgio is a special-teams guy that earned a battlefield promotion in the Bills' own carnage at linebacker on a defense that has given up yards on the ground with a 24th ranking in rush defense.
"It's important for Cincinnati to have time of possession and keep their defense off the field because Buffalo wants to shorten the game against them," The Guru says. "In three of the last four games they've had it less than 28 minutes and in two of them it was less than 25. They can't do that."
"When they get that nickel defense on the field, I think the Bengals will be able to run and pass," The Guru says.
Lynch is a guy the Bengals should be able to control. His longest run is a 23-yard touchdown, but he's also the kind of guy that tends to have a breakout game against them.
"They're just big," The Guru says. "They don't move their feet very well and they don't sustain their blocks. They're weak inside. Their best player is the left tackle (Jason Peters)."
"The Bengals secondary play has been erratic," The Guru says. "Their linebackers are obviously beat up and the defensive line has played pretty well. Those guys try hard and are solid and they got decent pressure last week. But the secondary has to play better and I think they will because I think their young corners are pretty good. But they have to do it now."
The Bengals have stabilized their cover teams since some early bleeding and have worked their way back up to 23rd in punt cover.
McGee not only has the quicks but he's got a great ability to read and anticipate his blocks, a deadly combo in a return man.
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