It's enough to paralyze Bengaldom with fear and angst, the bookends of trap-game dread in the wake of the most impressive Bengals win since the Re-Boot of '11.
The Bengals.com media roundtable unanimously taps the Bengals to subdue the 1-8 Chiefs on Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Arrowhead Stadium, where the hosts have yet to win or hold a lead.
But the difficulty factor is far from unanimous.
The Chiefs have one of the best running games and defenses in the NFL and the Bengals have struggled at various points defeating both this season. Clark Judge of CBS Sports says the Bengals survive a day-long tractor pull.
Yet the Bengals are coming off their biggest win in the 25 games started by quarterback Andy Dalton in that 31-13 takedown of the Super Bowl Giants while the Chiefs are dealing with Monday night's overtime loss in Pittsburgh on a short week. Bill Williamson, ESPN.com's AFC West guru, sees another double-digit victory for Cincinnati.
"I don't know what to make of the Bengals," Judge says. "Before last week, they were awful the month before that. But you see them play like they did last week and you think they can be a wild card."
Williamson says the Chiefs are teeming with talent but are mired in a funk where "they always do the wrong thing on the five, six or seven big plays in a game," and thinks the Bengals pitch a big game on defense against the banged-up Chiefs offensive line.
Jim Corbett of USA Today sees the game unfolding much the same way and senses that Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green can embark on the type of run that opened their rookie season last year. Corbett sees them flexing their muscles Sunday.
Adam Teicher, the Kansas City Star beat man, thinks the Chiefs won't have much left for the Bengals after they had the Steelers beaten a couple of different times and still found a way to lose.
Let's go around the table.
The Chiefs are pretty good if they don't turn it over. But that's been a big if. Their quarterback (Matt Cassel) is responsible for 19 turnovers in his eight games. Go back and look at Monday night's play in overtime. (Steelers linebacker Lawrence) Timmons intercepted the ball, but there were two other Chiefs standing right there and could have had it.
But I also think their Nos. 1-2-3 receivers have underachieved. They've got a lot of drops and there have been some interceptions where the ball has gone off their hands first. Dwayne Bowe is a deep threat, but he does have some drops.
They have to run the ball if they're going to have a chance. They need to get (running backs) Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis 40 carries between them. Their offensive line run blocks well, better than it pass blocks, but they've also been banged up there.
They've got two 5-9 cornerbacks (Brandon Flowers and Javier Arenas) and I just see A.J. Green having a big day against that matchup. They had trouble with Julio Jones (six catches for 102 yards, two TDs) back in the opener when they lost to Atlanta, and while they've got some very good pass rushers their numbers against the pass haven't been good.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 27-17. It's a problematic matchup for the Chiefs. The Bengals have some big receivers and have a good front four. I also think if Brady Quinn is healthy, he may not start the game but he could get some playing time. I just go back to that last pass in overtime.
It looks to me like the Bengals are realizing they can make a run here. I think the Giants game showed them they've got a chance to get back into the AFC North. Both the Ravens and Steelers are vulnerable because of injuries and they're going to beat up each other. Miami has stepped back and can Indianapolis survive the stretch with a rookie quarterback? This is a 9-7 league. Bill Belichick calls it a post-Thanksgiving league. The last two Super Bowl winners have been 9-7 and 10-6.
I think the Bengals have enough talent to be a team that can get hot. Their next few games are certainly winnable (their next five foes have a record of 15-30). I've been impressed with Dalton and Green. Dalton struggled early, but it looks to me like offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has worked with him to cut down his interceptions and Green is one of the top three or four receivers, and is the kind of player that can carry you through a stretch.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 24-17. The Chiefs are a team in tatters. Romeo Crennel is a great guy and a good coach, but they're not playing with any confidence. It used to be with the Chiefs you could at least hang your hat on, well, they'll win at Arrowhead. But not only are they 0-4 at home, they haven't had the lead there. I just don't see it happening for them Sunday.
What do you make of the Bengals? I thought they were going to win the division because of that easy schedule at the beginning and they could hold on down the stretch. But I thought they really blew it when they went 3-3 and then, predictably, they can't beat Pittsburgh. The Cleveland game really disappointed me. They put up 34 points on them and that shouldn't happen, and Miami is what we thought they were. They're not very good.
But then you see the Bengals beat the Giants like that and you wonder. Their defense hadn't been coming up with turnovers or coming up with consistent stops, and yet they did it last Sunday. And they have winnable games, but they still have to play Pittsburgh and Baltimore and they haven't proven they can beat them.
It's going to be tough to make the playoffs. The Colts have a friendly schedule where they play only three teams with a winning record and one of those is the season finale at home, where they are 4-1 and the Texans may be resting people. The bottom would have to drop out on them and it could with a rookie quarterback, guys we've never heard of, and a defense that doesn't turn it over. But they've already beaten Green Bay and Minnesota and they both have six wins.
The one element that's missing for the Bengals is the running game. The good teams like Chicago, San Francisco and Houston can run the ball, and I think that hurts them against the good teams.
But they have the talent on offense and they've got good players up front on defense. A.J. Green is a great player and the Chiefs have been struggling at cornerback. If Dalton gets the time, he'll pick them apart.
If Kansas City doesn't make mistakes, they're pretty good. I was talking to (a sports writer friend) in San Diego and he said except for the quarterback, he would trade the Chargers for the Chiefs. I would too. You can't win with him and I don't think they'll start Brady Quinn on Sunday, but he's worse.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 24-20. The Chiefs are good on defense and they can rush the passer. But they're undisciplined. You saw that Monday night with all the mistakes. The Steelers tried to give it to them six different times. The Bengals are coming off a high with an extra day of rest. I give it to Cincinnati, but it's going to be closer than people think. It's a trap game they should win.
It's an interesting game between two teams that look to be out of the playoff hunt. To me it comes down to the mental state of both teams. It's a natural letdown game for the Bengals and do the Chiefs have anything left in the tank after going on the road and playing a game where they should have beat Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football? I think you're going to see two teams starting out slow and we won't know what happens until after the first quarter.
You're going to look out on the field Sunday and see a lot of good players for the Chiefs. It's hard to believe they're being compared to the 2008 Detroit Lions. They've got some underrated players like Derrick Johnson and they can get after the quarterback, and they're a high-effort team. But they always do the wrong thing on the five, six or seven big plays in a game. They need big games from Charles and Hillis to keep them upright.
THE EDGE: Bengals, 24-13. The Chiefs offensive line is banged up and the Bengals have a defensive front that can rattle their quarterbacks.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said it best Friday. How can a 4-5 team have a letdown? And the Chiefs are just the kind of club that has haunted the Bengals on the road in the 10 seasons he's been the coach.
Heck, it happened just 31 days ago in Cleveland when the winless Browns flattened them. The 1-8 Chiefs are winless at home, where they've never led this season, and lead the NFL with a crushing minus-20 turnover differential.
But the Chiefs have two elements that the 2012 Bengals have had trouble dealing with at times. The Chiefs are fourth in the NFL rushing the ball and have the ninth-best defense on third down with five first-round picks lining up for them at some point.
The common thread in Cincinnati's four wins is a big play in the first five minutes. The Bengals got two against the Giants last week to go up 14-0 and they scored TDs in the first 1:47 in wins over Washington and Cleveland, and ended the first series in Jacksonville with a sack.
But in four of the five losses, the earliest the Bengals scored a touchdown was 2:17 left in the first quarter. And in the other loss, the one in Cleveland, they didn't take the 7-0 lead until the middle of the first quarter. To let the Chiefs hang around at home would be the first recipe for disaster. Another quick strike could get them into the here-we-go-again mindset.
The Bengals have to ride both trenches like they did last week against the Giants or else Kansas City has the ability to grind out a win with the running game and pass rush.
The Chiefs are without their starting right guard and their center missed practice Friday. That means Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is sure to be hopping around looking for the right matchup and the profootballfocus.com favorite figures to find something. After giving him nine pressures last week, the web site has Atkins as the only defensive tackle to rank in the Top 10 in Pass Rushing Productivity and Run Stop Percentage, at first and fifth, respectively.
Certainly if the Bengals can put pressure on quarterbacks Cassel and/or Quinn, good things are going to happen since Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is the only quarterback who has thrown more picks than Cassel.
But the Bengals have to be careful not to let Charles and Hillis dominate the game and take the ball out of the quarterback's hands. And, really, Pittsburgh's Jonathan Dwyer is the only back that has really shredded the Bengals lately. The Giants racked up some rushing yards, but some of that was because the Bengals were protecting a lead.
Yet Charles can go off (233 yards in September against the Saints) and it looks like Hillis is running AFC North hard again, so the Bengals need another big, physical game out of linebackers Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict, and if they make the Chiefs one-dimensional then Atkins and Co. are having a big day with pressure.
The Chiefs receivers have been unreliable. The 5-8, 180-pound Dexter McCluster can run at receiver, but he's got seven drops and No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe has five according to profootballfocus.com.
On the other side of the ball, Bengals rookie center Trevor Robinson makes his first NFL road start after his first two at home. The other big change is that a very large man is over him in a 3-4, No. 1 pick Dontari Poe, the 346-pound Chiefs nose tackle. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander figures Robinson is giving away 50 pounds.
Not only that, the two outside backers are big pass-rush threats. Just ask Steelers Nation. The athletic Tamba Hali goes against left tackle Andrew Whitworth six days from separating Ben Roethlisberger from his throwing shoulder, and right tackle Andre Smith faces Justin Houston, ranked second by PFF among edge rushers for pressure per play and it shows up in the team stats. The Chiefs are only allowing foes to convert 35.6 percent of the time on third down and Dalton was ranked next to last in NFL third-down passing before he threw three third-down lasers for TDs last week. The Bengals have to do what they did last week, which was make the third down manageable with short, efficient passes on first down.
But Whitworth and Smith are also coming off big days after holding the Giants sackless. They'll be helped if the Bengals can run it just a little bit.
If O-line gives Dalton time he ought make hay against the 5-9 corners. Not to mention the 6-2 Mohamed Sanu and the 6-1 Brandon Tate. Flowers figures to follow Green and according to PFF, Flowers has the 11th-best passer rating among NFL corners and has allowed just two touchdown passes this season while giving up only two passes of 20 yards or longer. But Arenas has allowed a 120 rating while giving up two touchdowns himself.
A win and 5-5 gives hope in this NFL. By the time they get to work Monday morning, the Bengals could be a game behind the Steelers if Baltimore beats Pittsburgh. Or two games behind the Ravens if Pittsburgh wins with six left.