When they que it up in the Music City Sunday against the AFC South-leading Titans (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) , the Bengals are hoping to play it again Sam. Not to mention Joe (Burrow), Logan (Wilson), Mike (Hilton), Clay (Johnston) and all the others that pitched into last year's playoff win in Nashville.
The Bengals.com Media Roundtable sees it as evenly as the stats, which pits the Bengals' top ten offense vs. the Titans' top ten defense and features the NFL's top two red-zone offenses. The Cincinnati contingent of Bengals.com team reporter Marisa Contipelli and Bengals radio voice Dan Hoard both call a tight game won by the Cincinnati defense. Alex Marvez, talkmaster of Sirius NFL Radio, thinks the memory of last year's loss drives the Titans to a one-score win while long-time Titans observer Paul Kuharsky of paulkuharsky.com thinks Tennessee could be in trouble if their pass game can't keep pace with Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow's offense.
Let's go around The Table. As always, ladies and visitors first.
The Bengals offense against the Titans defense … Let me go grab my popcorn! Since week six Cincinnati is averaging an AFC high 31.4 points per game while Tennessee is allowing the fewest at 13.4. The Bengals bring in the third-ranked passing game while the Titans defense is second best against the run. With Bengals running back Joe Mixon (concussion) out and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (hip) questionable, this is a game I expect quarterback Joe Burrow to take over. Since week seven, Burrow's 93 Pro Football Focus grade is tops in the league. Against non-AFC North opponents this season he's thrown 16 touchdowns while averaging 291 yards per game with a 117.3 passer rating.
The Bengals defense has been consistent despite navigating injuries. I expect that bend-but-don't-break trend to continue. Healthy nose tackle DJ Reader is a welcome sight as they face Derrick Henry and his league-leading 1,010 rushing yards. King Henry versus the Bengals defensive line is the matchup I'm keeping a close eye on. In three games including the postseason, Cincinnati has held Henry to an average of 75 yards per game and an average of three yards per attempt in the AFC Divisional back in January. Right end Trey Hendrickson and linebacker Germaine Pratt have been playing some of their best ball the last few weeks and the Bengals need that to slow down Henry.
THE EDGE: When a team is firing like the Bengals, it's tough to pick against them. With the exception of Monday Night in Cleveland, Cincinnati has outscored its last four opponents, 144-94. I anticipate a much closer matchup this week with the Bengals defense rising to the occasion as Cincinnati wins its third straight. BENGALS, 21-17
The Titans had a propensity for giving up big plays earlier in the season. They've settled down a little bit, but they're saying this is the best group of skilled players they've seen. They were saying that before Mixon (and Chase) were out, but it's still (impressive) in terms of receiving talent. I think the Titans are going to rush the passer well, but missing defensive end Denico Autry certainly hurts them. I think they'll give up some things offensively that they usually don't. It's a matter if the Bengals can turn that into points. The Titans are pretty good defensively, points-wise.
The only team the Titans beat when they had a winning record were the Colts. They've got a stretch now with Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Chargers, Dallas that is a lot more challenging than what they've faced so far. They have a chance in all those games because Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is really good and because they adjust really well. But I'm not convinced their passing offense is what we saw in Green Bay and that they can sustain that and if they don't I think they'll be at risk in a lot of these games.
THE EDGE: I don't do scores. I won't be surprised if the Titans don't win.
It's the game of the weekend. I'm very intrigued by this matchup. One thing that speaks well about these teams. The Bengals are No. 1 in the red zone and the Titans are No. 2, and it shows how these teams take advantage of things. The Titans have a great scoring defense but they struggle against wide receivers. They give up 188 yards per game and have allowed 13 receiving touchdowns. Then you have the Bengals receivers averaging 203.7 yards per game and have 14 receiving touchdowns. Can the Titans get the type of pressure with their front and tackle Jeffery Simmons that led to them giving the Bengals problems in last year's playoff game? I worry about the Bengals' balance on offense. Samaje Perine is coming off a great game, but he just isn't the runner Joe Mixon is. But how many running backs in the league are and it's the drop-off there that concerns me.
I think the Bengals run defense is an issue. Looking at the numbers, it doesn't seem as formidable as it was last year. In five of the last six games they've allowed more than 100 yards on the ground. The Steelers had a good offensive attack, which is stunning to me because they were so terrible. I just feel like the most interesting thing about this game is the amount of pressure and scrutiny on Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This is probably what Tannehill has been waiting for and I think their offense is coming together with play-action. It's amazing that running back Derrick Henry accounts for 39 percent of Tennessee's offense and they still win if he gets held down. I feel like this game means more to the Titans just because of what happened last year and having another shot at home.
THE EDGE: I'm not saying Tannehill lights up the scoreboard, but he'll be better than the last time they played as Vrabel moves a step closer to beating every NFL team. He has only Cincinnati and Pittsburgh left. TITANS, 23-20
I have a lot of respect for the Titans. They're in it every year. I think Mike Vrabel is one of the best coaches in the NFL. But if you look at their team this season, they only have one win over a team with a winning record and that's Washington at 6-5. I think their stretch of seven wins in the last eight games has been built mostly against some pretty mediocre teams.
The key is limiting running back Derrick Henry. That's hard to do. But not allowing him to have a huge game is big. Ryan Tannehill had good passing game against Green Bay last week, but clearly Tennessee has been challenged by its receiving corps this year after trading A.J. Brown. I think there are guys still developing their timing and chemistry with Tannehill. They might not quite be there yet.
THE EDGE: I think the defense plays well enough and get out of town with the win. BENGALS, 24-23.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In the marquee game of the week, a repeat of last year's stirring AFC Divisional win for the Bengals in an instant classic is going to have to take a different form. Running back Joe Mixon (concussion) won't be there with his 105 scrimmage yards and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase may not be there with his 109 yards. And Titans running back Derrick Henry, reduced with a foot injury last season, is healthy and leading the NFL in rushing.
But the Bengals bring in plenty of advantages with Burrow racking up a 6-0 record in games he betters 100 passer ratings taking dead aim at a Titans pass defense ranked 30th. His big plays have outpitched Tennessee's efficient Ryan Tannehill in two career matchups and the Bengals counter the Titans No. 2 red zone offense with their own No. 1 work inside the 20. Wide receiver Tee Higgins, the two-time Mr. Football in Tennessee who had 96 yards in the January game, returns home off a season-high 148-yard game in Pittsburgh. The Titans pass rush that rocked Burrow for nine sacks is missing edgers Harold Landry and Denico Autry.
Still, according to Next Gen Stats, Tennessee leads the league in quarterback pressures. But the Bengals offensive line is better. They've allowed just four sacks in the last two games and Burrow is getting the ball out faster and more effectively. According to Next Gen Stats, his 202 attempts and 1,567 pass yards on quick throws that take less than 2.5 seconds are second only to Tom Brady. And Burrow's 109.5 passer rating under pressure is second best in the league.
When it comes to stopping Henry, this Bengals defense (and we're talking about the one that's been there since Opening Day, 2021) simply doesn't let running backs take over games. In games that meant something, they've allowed three 100-yard rushers and only one of more than 103 yards and that was Nick Chubb's 137 more than a year ago. The King may get more than the 62 yards he got back in January, but these Bengals don't get stampeded.
Sunday's game is a stat delight with so many close rankings, but it may very well be decided by a roster move on Saturday when the Titans brought rookie kicker Caleb Shudak off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) to make his NFL debut with old friend Randy Bullock out with a calf injury. While at Iowa last year, Shudak was seven-for-seven from 40-49 yards, and four of six from 50-plus yards. He also made 19 of 24 field-goal attempts during the open periods of spring practices.
But the Bengals have the steel-belted Evan McPherson, just off a terrific three-for-three game in Pittsburgh that included a huge 54-yarder on the Bengals' last play of the third quarter. And, of course, he's returning to the field where last January his 52-yarder at the gun put the Bengals in the AFC title game on his second 50-yarder of the day and fourth field goal of the game that put him in the postseason record books.
Close, but the Bengals have enough edges to get Burrow a cigar.