As the 6-3 Giants lumber into Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-WLW-AM 700), the 3-5 Bengals hope they can finish off what the Steelers began last week and push the Super Bowl champs into their bye week with enough controversy to fuel the New York tabloids until Thanksgiving.
But the Bengals.com media roundtable thinks the Bengals may be catching the Giants a week too late after their home loss to Pittsburgh. Head coach Tom Coughlin's track record on the road and his intolerance of shoddy play combine to make the champs dangerous, our experts say.
But it's nice to know some things never change. Bengals Super Bowl quarterback Boomer Esiason found himself in the middle of another Bengals radio controversy this week 15 years after he took his last snap when wide receiver A.J. Green agreed with Esiason and his co-host that the Giants defense has holes.
Esiason, a CBS studio host and Monday night radio voice as well the WFAN talkmaster, thinks there are enough holes for the Bengals to roll up yards in a close game, but not enough to win.
Dave Lapham, another Super Bowl Bengal and the club's long-time radio analyst, looks at New York's NFL-leading sack ratio and says the game is going to be decided in the trenches. If the season's script plays out, he says, the Giants have the edge but the Bengals can win by making the one or two clutch plays they've lacked.
Gary Myers, the NFL columnist for New York's Daily News, believes Coughlin has reestablished normalcy and picks the Giants big. If so, he'll have a more eventful bye week. His inside book looking at the lives of NFL coaches, Coaching Confidential, hits bookstores as well as Amazon.com on Tuesday.
Mike Garafolo of USA Today, who covered everything but the beanstalk when he worked the Giants beat at Newark's Star-Ledger, sees a tighter game. He thinks the Bengals offense is going to score, but he also doesn't think the New York passing game is as far off the rails as some of his colleagues believe and sees Giants quarterback Eli Manning pulling out another one.
Let's ago around the table:
The Giants aren't playing like a top five team. Eli has been hurt by his decision-making. He's very aggressive and he's very streaky. The Bengals are going to be able to run the ball and throw the ball down the field on the Giants. (Bengals running back) BenJarvus Green-Ellis should be able to get close to 100 yards and that means they've got a real shot to win this game.
The Bengals are going to have to get a hat on a hat against that aggressive Giants defensive line. (Bengals quarterback) Andy Dalton has been sacked five times in a game this season, what, twice? On paper it looks like a mismatch and the Bengals have to be extremely careful here. The Giants are great at causing turnovers. That's how they've been living all year. Somebody misses a block on one of those pass rushers and it turns into a game-changing play.
The Bengals have to snap out of it. They lost those two games they should have won against Miami and Cleveland and there's been a hangover ever since.
You can't jump ship already on Dalton. I like him. He's a young guy. He needs help. What he's going through, it will only make him better. The only thing I would tell him is don't be somebody he's not. Keep playing the way he's always played.
THE EDGE: Giants. I don't like to make predictions. I like to see the injury lists and all that before the game. But that's the way it's heading if it plays out the way it is on paper.
Pressure vs. protection is a big deal in this one. I look at sack ratio a lot and the Giants have a differential of plus-16, best in the NFL. They protect the quarterback and Eli gets rid of the ball. That stat shows the Giants are beating people up front and the Bengals have to match up.
It's a simple game this week in my mind. The Giants have only 43 penalties, tied for second fewest in the league. They don't hurt themselves like we saw the Bengals do against the Broncos. And the Giants take the ball away more than they give it up. A lot. Plus-14 on the turnover differential. They don't hurt themselves. You go into a game against the Giants and you have to play clean, you have to play smart, you can't beat yourself, and you have to compete with them at the line of scrimmage.
One thing to monitor is the energy of the Giants. We talked to their broadcast team this week and they feel like the Giants are a little tired. They looked tired mentally and physically against the Steelers after dealing with the hurricane and not having a bye week yet.
The thing about the Bengals is they've been in every game, but they can't keep making critical mistakes in the fourth quarter. It would be hard to think Eli would have another fourth quarter this week like he had last week. One out of five for a yard. But he's one of the best fourth-quarter quarterbacks there is.
Last week against Denver, the Bengals had their worst defensive series of the game and their worst offensive series of the game back-to-back in the fourth quarter and you can't beat good teams doing that.
There are six teams at the top, six teams at the bottom and the Bengals are one of those 20 in the middle and those are the plays you have to make when the margin of error is so small. In high school it's 10 plays. In college it's three or four plays. In the NFL it comes down to one or two plays because everyone is so good.
THE EDGE: Giants. They're 3-1 on the road and the Bengals are 1-3 at home. If the Giants bring their A game and the Bengals bring their A game, based on what's happened this year it would favor the Giants. But that's why they play the games.
Eli hasn't played well of late, but when he's on he's pretty damn good. He's not afraid to throw it. He has so much faith in his arm that sometimes it gets him into trouble. Up until the last couple of weeks he was the best clutch quarterback in the league, if not the best in the league.
They're so reliant on him. The running game has been there only a few times this year. (Giants wide receiver) Hakeem Nicks is such a good player that when he got hurt it put a tremendous burden on (the other receiver) Victor Cruz. Nicks is playing, but he's playing with a knee injury.
The Giants have been much better on the road this season. They haven't played a good game at home yet. Historically under Coughlin they haven't played well in the second half. Their best record in the second half is 5-3 and their worst record in the first half is 5-3. Last year they were 6-2 and then were 6-6.
THE EDGE: Giants, 27-13. If they lose this game against what is thought to be an inferior opponent, they're going to have to hear about all this second half of the season stuff for the next two weeks. I think they'll play a really good game Sunday.
I agree with A.J. Green. There are some holes in this defense. You can throw against this secondary. Especially with (safety) Kenny Phillips (knee) down. He's a guy that played the deep post and has been able to break on some balls. He's really good about reading plays and people are dissuaded throwing downfield because he's pretty smart and can cover some ground.
You look at the secondary and it's played OK, but they've missed a few reads. Corey Webster is supposed to be their No. 1 corner but I haven't seen him be a lockdown guy. He's given up some plays. He's streaky. He gave up that touchdown to Dez Bryant at the end of the Dallas game that was out-of-bounds. Their secondary has been far from perfect.
The (defensive) front four hasn't been as consistent as a group as they have been in the past. They're getting their hands on some balls and they generate pressure and (Jason) Pierre-Paul is Pierre-Paul.
But you wonder if guys are having issues there or if teams are blocking them up better. There always seemed to be a point where you couldn't keep these guys down. I'm waiting for these guys to have that game where they really break through.
All this talk about a passing game being in a slump, I guess if it lasts for one or two games it's called a slump now. I thought they executed pretty well last Sunday against a pretty good secondary. There were a couple of plays that just missed or there was good coverage. Eli is good about self-correcting himself and they have some really good receivers. Their offense is built to take shots down the field. It's not dink and dunk. That's what makes them really good and sometimes it makes them a little sluggish.
If the Bengals could just get the running game going, that would change them. It looks like Andy Dalton is developing into a pretty darn good quarterback. If you can't run the ball in this league, they're all over you on play-action and if you don't make third downs manageable, they just tee off on you.
The running game is the Bengals Achilles heel. They've got a lot of the other things. (Defensive tackle Geno) Atkins gets after the quarterback, (cornerback Terence) Newman made some plays for them in the secondary last week. With a running game they can be a legit team.
THE EDGE: Giants, 24-21. The Giants are smarting from that loss last week. I saw a quote from Coughlin where he told his team something like, 'I'll worry about next week, you worry about this week," meaning the bye week. He's really good about getting them to focus on what's at hand. Mentally, he'll have them in the right spot.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Bengals come face to face with the demons that have haunted them in this four-game losing streak:
» They've lost three fourth-quarter leads and face a quarterback in Eli Manning that has executed six fourth-quarter drives since the Bengals last had one on Nov. 27, 2011.
» They face a team that is second in the NFL with a turnover differential of plus-14 while in the last four games the Bengals are minus-2 and minus-5 for the season.
» The Giants are sixth in the NFL in generating sacks per pass and the Bengals are 23rd protecting the passer after allowing the Broncos five sacks last week.
» The Giants are No. 1 in the NFL protecting the quarterback and the Bengals defense is coming off its first sackless game in two years.
We like to come up with a stat that's so key that if it's the only stat you know then you can call the winner. Kind of like if Nate Silver worked for Elias.
If the Bengals rush it 3.8 yards or less Sunday, it won't be good. The Giants front four is going to be coming and their defense performs best when the quarterback is under pressure because they've already got 17 interceptions.
If there's no play-action, the young Bengals offensive interior and their banged up centers are going to have a tough time dealing with the bottomless well of Giants rushers that line up both inside and outside.
Someone is running on the Giants. They've allowed four 100-yard rushers and are giving up 4.6 yards per rush and the Bengals have to join the club. They don't have a 100-yard rusher yet this season.
And if you can run on the Giants, you must be able to pass it. Foes actually have one more TD pass than the Giants, 13-12.
Both clubs are going to be missing a key safety in Cincinnati's Reggie Nelson and New York's Kenny Phillips. The big thing for the Bengals defense is to get in Manning's face. He's not used to it, for one, and for another they'll have their chances because he likes to go downfield. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw had an off and on practice week with a foot injury and the Bengals need a similar effort against the run that they had last week since Bradshaw is averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
The special teams is on red alert after giving up last week's 105-yard kick return. The Giants are getting good production out of a pair of rookies. Speed running back David Wilson is a handful even though he hasn't broken one yet. But he's got long of 66 yards and the Giants are 13th returning kicks. Receiver Reuben Randle has broken an 18-yard punt return and is averaging nearly seven yards per his 10 returns.
But it's all window dressing Sunday. Except for the guys up front.