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Things managed to get worse for the Bengals this weekend and I will be writing about that, but I thought I would zip round the league first before letting rip to give those who don’t wish to indulge my reaction to the problems besetting the orange and black something to read.
There weren’t as many as in the previous week, but the NFL still managed to have four games separated by a field goal and a couple of upsets.
I’m going to start with a game I didn’t see, but on Monday night the Houston Texans won their eighth straight game to remain two games clear at the top of the AFC South. I suspect they are possibly the division leader I have written about the least this season and I will need to watch them again soon to get a better idea of what the transformation looks like. The obvious thing might be to take a look at their top five defence by DVOA that has JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney fit and combining for eighteen and a half sacks, but they are also getting enough out of an offence ranked twenty-first by DVOA to win and with them finding a way to run the ball and win with Deshaun Watson back at quarterback that side of the ball might be the more interesting study. Still, they have definitely established themselves as team worthy of more attention and I hope this paragraph doesn’t jinx them!
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a somewhat less successful weekend, losing on the road to the Denver Broncos. It feels like at least once a season the Steelers lose a game on the road they shouldn’t and as much as I admire what Mike Tomlin achieves in Pittsburgh this could once again lose them a shot of a playoff bye and home advantage later in the playoffs. They have a big game next week against the LA Chargers who got themselves back on track with a big win over the Arizona Cardinals and this meeting of AFC teams looks like it will be one of the highlights of the week thirteen.
With the Rams and Chiefs on their bye week, the New Orleans Saints were the only one of the top tier teams (according to me) in action in week twelve and ran out convincing winners in the evening Thanksgiving game against the Atlanta Falcon who will have to regroup in the offseason having been broken by injury. The New England Patriots got a healthy enough to win over the New York Jets but even though Rob Gronkowski returned to the field, he does not seem to be the same dominant tight end of previous years. Of their five remaining opponents the Patriots only have to face two with winning records and I will be very interested to see how they do hosting the Vikings next week and when they travel to Pittsburgh in week fifteen. I should also mention that the Patriots are yet to play the Dolphins in Miami where the Pats have lost in four out of the last five visits.
The Chicago Bears beat the Detroit Lions comfortably despite not being able to start Mitchell Trubisky and that leaves us with the NFC East as the only division that I haven’t discussed the division leaders. With Washington falling to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving and the Eagles scraping a win over the New York Giants on Sunday things remain tight in the east. The Cowboys have managed to get themselves equal to Washington but have the daunting task of hosting the Saints this Thursday night, whilst Washington and Philadelphia have the first of their two games against each other this weekend. Given the injuries to both Washington and Philadelphia most people seem to think the momentum is with the Cowboys right now and it certainly seems like the contest is going to go down to the wire in terms of winning the division. It is also worth noting that whilst the arguments about value are still valid, the Cowboys trade for Amari Cooper does appear to be making a difference and his breakaway touchdowns was pretty much the difference between them and Washington on Thursday.
This is your two game warning before I dig into the mess that is the Bengals right now.
The two games on Sunday I enjoyed watching were the Seattle Seahawks winning out over the Carolina Panthers despite the Panthers gaining well over double the amount of yards on the ground and seemingly moving the ball with more ease. However, costly failures in the red zone and some interesting decisions to go for it on fourth down led the Panthers to their third straight loss. I don’t know if a division game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the right situation to try to turn things round, but they really need to get a win thus week if they want to stay in the race for a wildcard place.
Finally, whilst looking good for stretches of the Packers’ game against the Minnesota Vikings, it appears that Aaron Rodgers might be mortal after all. I would suggest the problem is more that the offence he has been given doesn’t seem to have evolved under Mike McCarthy in recent years despite the developments round the league, but after a good start that saw the Packers go 14-7 up at the start of the second quarter, they failed to score again until near the end of the fourth quarter and ultimately fell 17-24. At 4-6-1 the playoffs are not completely out of reach but they would have to run the table and hope to get lucky. The big sticking point in the final five games that jumps out on the schedule is their visit to Chicago in week fifteen, especially as the Packers have gone 0-6 on the road.
Okay, so here we go. Final warning.
So the Bengals season is hanging by a thread and only the most optimistic of super fans can even contemplate things turning around. Not only did the Bengals lose the battle of Ohio to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, but they lost Andy Dalton to thumb injury for the rest of the season. Now as it happens Jeff Driskell is pretty good as backup quarterbacks go and it’s not as if the Bengals were competing for the Super Bowl, but there are real problems with this team which stretch further than the injury list. The offence still ranks sixteenth despite the injuries that have hampered this side of the ball but the defence have been woeful all season. The Bengals have already fired one defensive co-ordinator and there are now questions yet again about whether it is time for Marvin Lewis to step aside. Now I do think it is time for this to happen, in fact it might have been time a couple of seasons ago but I understand the reluctance to do so and it does make me nervous. Marvin Lewis took a perennially underachieving team and made them respectable, frequently one of the most talented rosters in the league who went to the playoffs five seasons in a row between 2011-15 but this looks to be the third season that the Bengals miss out and something has to change. However, as much I would like to see an inventive offensive minded coach take over the franchise as that seems to be what is required to win with the current set of rules, replacing Lewis worries me because of the tendency for Mike Brown to hire people he knows and the rumours that Hue Jackson is a potential candidate that surfaced over the weekend.
Yes Hue Jackson, who has a 11-44-1 overall record and who just went 3-36-1 with the Cleveland Browns. Now I’m not necessarily saying he’s a bad coach, he did great things with the Bengals’ offence as a coordinator before he left for Cleveland, but I’ve seen nothing that makes me think that as a head coach he could turn things round. Look at how the Browns have been doing in recent weeks. Not to mention the shots that Baker Mayfield has been taking both on the field and after the game in the press. There is still a lot of talent on this roster, and it might just need a new voice to turn things round or it could need more of a re-build but who knows if the Bengals infrastructure above the head coach can facilitate such efforts. I have no idea what happens next and that’s what makes me nervous. So much of an NFL franchise’s success lies in getting the behind the scenes right to get the right coach with the roster at the right moment, and yes with the right quarterback. It appears that as Bengals fans, we live in interesting times….
Anyway, I shall leave you with a comment from Dan as we were discussing quarterbacks after his misguided shot at the red rifle yesterday.