Hobson's Choice: two for the show

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Terence Newman is on the list of most productive Bengals this season.

i believe Jeremy Hill can take the Bengals to the playoffs.....do you think they will start using him much like Steelers use Bell?...does Eric Winston look capable of starting full time this year? Kirk Bemus, Newark, OH

KIRK:  It sure sounds like they are going to use Hill that way for the last two games. Hill is also a heck of a receiver, but what should separate their backfield from what the Steelers have  _ and everybody else's backfield for that matter is Giovani Bernard. They can rely heavily on Hill, but don't have to wear him down, which seems to be a concern for Bell in Pittsburgh. But it sure hasn't shown up yet.

It would be no surprise if Winston gets the start Monday night. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander is raving about how quickly he has learned the system and he played well in working most of the second half last Sunday on 33 snaps. Plus, he went against Broncos pass rusher supreme Von Miller twice in 2012 and held his own, giving up a couple of hurries and hits, but no sacks, according to profootballfocus.com.

If Cincy can't beat Denver Monday night can they even be considered contenders to make a deep playoff run? Would they even deserve one? Jason Fogel, Catasauqua, PA

JASON: It looks like that will take care of itself. If they beat either Denver at home or Pittsburgh on the road, they deserve it. What is the old Bill Parcells line? You are what your record says you are. I hear what you're saying. Should losing to Indy, Denver, New England, Cleveland and Pittsburgh get you in? If you beat Cleveland and the Steelers on the road in order to make it, yeah, in this division, you deserve it if you finish 4-2.

How does Andy Dalton compare with Kyle Orton, Mark Sanchez, and Ryan Fitzpatrick? Seems to me they are all cut from the same cloth and are meant to be really good backup quarterbacks. Why settle for a guy like Dalton who is obviously shaken by big moments and turnover prone when you could replace him with another average quarterback that makes less mistakes? Anthony Burns, Springfield, OH

ANTHONY:  They may be cut from the same cloth, but they wear it a lot differently.

Dalton is such a tough guy to put in any category. He's not elite as his zero post-season wins and his 85.1 career passer rating would suggest. But he's not average, either, which is also reflected in his passer rating, as well as his career record and post-season appearances with three in his first three years. That's something only five men have done and has to be put in some kind of numeric formula.

With a plus-28, Dalton has made fewer mistakes than Mark Sanchez, who has thrown as many TDs as picks, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is at plus-22 with 123-101. But Fitzpatrick is 20 games under .500 compared to Dalton's 17 games over, and has a 79.5 career rating. Who would you rather have starting the next two games?  I mean, there's average and there's average.   

Good call there, stats-wise, with Orton. He's got 97 TD passes compared to Dalton's 95 and 67 picks compared to Dalton's 63. Dalton has completed 61.4 percent of his passes and Orton 59.3 with Dalton's 85.1 passer rating coming from seven yards per attempt and Orton's 80.8 coming from 6.6. The problem is that Orton has had five more seasons and 18 more starts than Dalton to build those numbers and he's 41-39 in his career starts while Dalton is 39-22-1.

I get it. Dalton has got to perform better than he has lately if the Bengals are to win the next two games. Never has the Bengals'   situation been more crystalized. Beating Denver at home or Pittsburgh on the road to get them into the playoffs is akin to making the playoffs and Dalton still has to prove he can do it.

But be careful what you wish for and what you're calling average. Dalton simply has better numbers than those three guys (Sanchez has a 36-32 record with a 73.1 rating) and, except for Sanchez who barely threw the ball in doing it, has many more big wins. Winning games to get into the playoffs has to count for something.

Hey Geoff, I know we won by 30. Is it possible to win a playoff game with the Red Rocket so off his game? We left a ton of points on the field. John Roberts, Urbana, OH

JOHN: Tough to win a play-off game with your QB hitting a 53 passer rating. Maybe you can survive once, but you won't make a deep run. You've got to believe if the running game stays strong, he's going to make some big plays off play-action. He's got to take what they give him. Last Sunday, he tried to force it deep instead of taking the short stuff that was there.

Geoff, first off I would like to say you have a wonderful name. Now that we have that out of the way, we have a couple of very important games coming up. Which team do you think will give us more of a problem? These last two games could be very important. Thoughts? Geoff O., Cincinnati, OH

GEOFF: It's been a great name since Geoffrey Chaucer covered the showdown in Canterbury between the Miller and Knight.

I'd say it's a tossup, wouldn't you? The last two games mean everything. If they lose them both, too much has to happen behind them to make the playoffs. They've never beaten Peyton Manning and the next week in Pittsburgh they try to win five straight on the road in a season for the first time in history. Talk about mountains.

Im a huge Bengals fan and I love reading your articles. Is there any insight on Lamur's and Rey's injuries from the Cleveland game? Do they appear to be lengthy injuries? Also, other than Jeremy Hill, who do you think has been the Bengals most productive player to this point this season? Thanks, and keep up the great work! Spencer Halcomb, Hamilton, OH

SPENCER: WILL linebacker Vincent Rey, who got checked for a concussion late in last Sunday's game, was cleared to come back in but he didn't have to. It sounds like SAM linebacker Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring) has a chance to play.

Offensively behind Hill, you've got to put wide receiver A.J. Green in there and on special teams punter Kevin Huber is the guy as far as production goes. Cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones (add in his returns) also has to be on that list. Take your pick. How deep is the secondary? Newman was out and Jones didn't play as much as usual and they pitched a shutout.

I hear a lot about how the Bengals play real bad when they are in the spotlight such as Monday night games and post season games. I'm sure the players hear this all the time and no doubt it haspsychological* ffect. What do you think should the coaches and players alike has to do to overcome this negative psyche? Dennis Lauchengco, Sugarland, TX*

DENNIS: All they have to do is watch tape of the first quarter on Sunday. They played with such energy and intensity, they melted a team in their own building. With this team, for whatever reason, a fast start is the difference between winning and losing.

Hey Geoff, Thanks for taking my email. Lifelong Bengals fan here. Just curious, do you believe that the offense has what it takes to at least keep pace with Denver? The running game was outstanding in CLE; however, there were many times that we stalled out when it mattered most. If Cleveland's offense was anything close to what it had been in the November game we may have had trouble winning that game. Kind regards, Brandon Downing, Lima, OH

BRANDON: Thank you for the note. Thankfully, this isn't a contest between offenses. This is a game management game. Who wins a shootout with Peyton Manning besides Tom Brady? I think the Bengals have a shot because they have come to realize in the last two weeks that the running game not only protects Dalton, but also a defense without Vontaze Burfict and a smattering of role players asked to be more than that.

Loved the play of Ryan Hewitt last week, what a find for the Bengals. I think this makes Gresham expendable after this season, frees up some cap space to sign AJ Green and others too. Thoughts? Tom Davis, Troy, OH

TOM: Hewitt gives them a lot of options. I think he would be a good No. 1 tight end if they choose to let Gresham go in free agency. Hewitt doesn't give you a down-field threat that you can split out or work the seam.  But Gresham hasn't made too many of those catches this year, and you'd think Hewitt could take care of some of that underneath stuff as well as the down-and-dirty blocking Gresham performs in-line.

Of course, Hewitt looks to be a Pro Bowl fullback in the making, so would they want to give up on that? Maybe they decide to keep Hewitt there and team another blocker with the receiving Eifert. If you're looking to replace Gresham in the draft with a guy that can catch and block, you'd have to get him in the first two rounds and I would think they have more pressing needs at offensive line and defensive tackle or end in those spots.

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