Q: Root against Baltimore or KC next week?
With the AFC playoff picture getting cloudier, 7-5 teams lining up like planes at O'Hare Airport, and the North title more within reach, how should Bengals fans cheer for our AFC rivals from here on out?
Assuming the Bengals defeat Oakland next week, should fans value a KC win over Baltimore more than the wider gap over KC, the fifth-best 7-5 team?
With the win, KC would still lag Cincy in conference record and still has a challenging matchup at San Diego. However, for the Baltimore loss to mean anything in terms of a Cincy AFC North title, one of these two "more likely" scenarios must take place to break all tie-breakers:
- Bengals win out AND Ravens lose one more game after KC to a division opponent against Cleveland or at Pittsburgh./
OR 2. Bengals take 3 of 4, losing at Indy AND Ravens lose two more games after KC, one to a division opponent.
Note that if Cincy loses to anyone except Indy in the second scenario, Ravens win the tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchups.
There is one other qualifying scenario - that Baltimore loses out - but I'm assuming it's too unlikely to think about.
So, should we cheer for KC in the chance that two of the above scenarios play out, or cheer for Baltimore to leave us with one less wildcard contender to think about?
**--John, Nashville, Tenn.
JOHN:** All of Bengaldom has been wrestling with this like a presidential candidate deciding when to announce. After much torture I say to heck with it. It's early enough to keep jousting for windmills and the division. Here's to two Dante Hall returns and a Chiefs victory.
That said, Rocky Balboa has a better shot at winning the Oscar than the Bengals do at winning the division, but we're always looking to be surprised, right?
The pragmatist would say let's get Kansas City that sixth loss as soon as possible and start nailing down probables instead of windmills.
The realist would say: Let's keep it real. The Bengals finishing 4-0 with back-to-back wins in Indy and Denver is nothing you can count on. They have the ability to do it, but certainly splitting those two and holding serve at home is the more probable and would be enough to qualify as a Wild Card.
But I think Pittsburgh has a real shot at beating Baltimore at its place Christmas Eve. Lump that with a Kansas City win and the Bengals' best two-game trip since Santa dropped off Carson Palmer and there it is.
So with a month left, there is plenty of time to dream about a holiday North title. And you figure if the Chiefs don't get that sixth loss this Sunday, it's coming in San Diego Dec. 17 or at home against Jacksonville New Year's Eve, right?
(A 10-6 tie with the Bengals knocks out the Chiefs because Cincinnati beat them head-to-head Opening Day. If the Bengals and Ravens tie for best AFC North record and have the same 5-1 division record, it then comes to common foes and the Ravens lead by a game at 7-2 and 6-3, respectively, with three games left for each.)
But pretty soon it's going to be to heck with the dreams and just get into the playoffs. If the Steelers can run the table as the Wild Card, so can the Bengals.
For this week, though, here's to Larry Johnson and a 100-yard day.
Q: After listening to Chad Monday night and reading the team comments for the beginning of this week, would you not agree that this team is showing more focus and more maturity than any recent Bengals team in memory?
**--J.B., Bidwell, OH
J.B.:** For a team that just a month ago became unglued in Baltimore and then unhinged against San Diego, the ensuing winning streak is proof this team has ice in its veins compared to the IVs of last season.
The Bengals had a miserable time responding to adversity last year. In '05, the Bengals couldn't overcome center Rich Braham's loss in Jacksonville, Pittsburgh's early scores at home, and Chad Johnson's halftime meltdown in the Wild Card loss to the Steelers.
This season the Bengals have put together a three-game winning streak:
While missing three-fifths of its offensive line, they weathered a loss at center in the middle of a game against the NFL's most complicated defense. (Steinbach vs. Houston was nice, but an untried kid in Ben Wilkerson against the Ravens was a gut check in place of Ghiaciuc.)
Mustered a 31-point effort in New Orleans despite whiffing on six of their first seven third-down tries.
Responded with some of the finest offensive performances in franchise history after Johnson's R-rated media briefing following the loss in Baltimore.
Living through the trauma of the Wild Card loss no doubt put some hair on the chest, as did the addition of playoff veterans Sam Adams and Dexter Jackson. And, remember now, the core of this team has been through a couple playoff runs now so it's longer new.
A sign of how far they've come with their maturity better flash Sunday against the 2-10 Raiders. The '03 and '05 Bengals let December games against the 4-11 Browns and 4-10 Bills, respectively, get away from them with lack of focus and urgency. A decisive win would offer more proof this team is all grown up for a serious Super Bowl challenge.
Q: Why don't the Bengals ever play in throwback uniforms? I know they did during the 75th anniversary season, but as a 36-year season ticket holder, I would like to see the old unis again.
**--Bill W., Mason, OH
BILL:** After changing the design of their uniforms and going with an alternate orange jersey along with the black and white before the 2004 season, the Bengals can't make any changes for five years and a throwback uniform is considered a uniform change according to Bengals equipment guru Rob Recker.
After the five years are up, the Bengals could decide to make the throwback uniform the alternate uniform that can be used for two regular-season games a year. But that would replace the orange jersey, a popular item with fans.
Q: With Dave Ragone not making the Rams roster, how does that aAffect the Bengals trade with the Rams?
**--Gary G., Cincinnati, OH
GARY:** With Ragone not being on the St. Louis roster for at least one game, the Bengals don't receive that seventh-round pick.