It’s hard to find meaning in this game for the Bengals.
At 5-7 after last Monday’s loss, it’s all but impossible for Cincinnati to climb back into playoff position. The fork that was stuck in them after Tennessee’s loss, then briefly removed after Denver and Cleveland, has returned. They’re overwhelming favorites to win at Chicago, despite a roster depleted by injury, but what do they stand to gain?
Realistically, they’ll still play hard and play to win – that’s what professional teams are supposed to do. Does that mentality creep in a bit after playoff elimination, even on the NFL level? Certainly. Every team, every player, is incentivized by the prospect of playing football in January. Taking that off the table forces players to find other means of motivating themselves.
Given, that isn’t hard in the NFL. Players always stand to gain from performing well, whether from incentives in their contract or desire to sign another one. The NFL, any given season, is composed of winners and losers. Winners play in January; losers self-evaluate and move parts around to the end of becoming winners. The Bengals, at this point, are losers – every player and coach is a part that is subject to being moved. This isn’t a truth that NFL fans are unaware of, but it’s one that’s arguably held less true in Cincinnati. Mike Brown has historically been reluctant to change staff, as evidenced by Marvin Lewis’ fifteen-year tenure as head coach.
That being said, there’s a growing belief around the league that Lewis’ time in the Queen City is running out. If Lewis’ seat is hot, so too are the seats of all those who answer to him – player or coach. Perhaps, as he has often before, Brown would allow a seat vacated by Lewis to be filled via internal promotion.
It’s possible that’s not in the cards, and perhaps that’s for the best regardless. Ben McAdoo, recently of the Giants, was the most recent example of an internal promotion to replace a retiring coach. Dirk Koetter of Tampa Bay is the most recent coach to be promoted from within to replace a fired one. McAdoo was unceremoniously dumped by the typically straight-laced Giants days ago; Koetter could easily be out by season’s end. The only other coaches in the NFL who were internal hires are Jason Garrett and Mike Mularkey. Garrett’s had some moments, but the collective body of work between the two coaches is a mixed bag.
We’re not close enough to the end yet to know if that’s a possibility for Paul Guenther or Bill Lazor. If their units grow dull to close out the season, however, it absolutely won’t be. For those within the organization, this is a game they have to win.
OUT: LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Adam Jones, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, HB Joe Mixon, LB Nick Vigil, S Shawn Williams, S Brandon Wilson
QUESTIONABLE: DT Geno Atkins, CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Vincent Rey
Also listed: WR John Ross
DOUBTFUL: S Adrian Amos, DT Eddie Goldman, LB Pernell McPhee
QUESTIONABLE: S DeAndre Houston-Carson
Also listed: WR Josh Bellamy, S Deon Bush, CB Bryce Callahan
OddsShark Predicted Score: Cincinnati 28.3, Chicago 11.0
Spread Consensus: Cincinnati -6.5
If you skimmed past the Bengals’ injury report, scroll back up a bit. Take note of how many defensive backs the Bengals could potentially be without on Sunday. Imagine how bad the defensive backfield would look had George Iloka’s one-game suspension been upheld.
Jones, Kirkpatrick, and Williams are locked to the bench. Dennard might be. Iloka would’ve been. Aside from the neophyte William Jackson III, who would the Bengals have left on the field? Josh Shaw? Clayton Fejedelem? With Brandon Wilson also ruled out, there’s one defensive back left on the roster, per the team’s official site. Congratulations, KeiVarae Russell.
The Bengals promoted Tony McRae from the practice squad on Saturday, bringing the defensive back total to five. At the very least, the Bengals can field a nickel package.
Does any of this matter against the Bears, frankly? Of their top five players in receiving yardage, three are receivers: Kendall Wright, Dontrelle Inman, and Josh Bellamy. Combined, they have 61 catches for 761 and three touchdowns. Receivers four and five – Tre McBride and Deonte Thompson – are no longer on the roster. Markus Wheaton, a former Steeler with fewer yards on the season than John Ross, is the only receiver that remains.
Maybe the game is decided by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky picking apart the depleted Bengals’ secondary, but that would surprise everybody. Not because anything’s wrong with the rookie passer, that’s just not how the Bears have attacked games this season. His total numbers on the season: 8 games, 106 completions, 193 attempts, 1,237 yards, 5 touchdowns. Attempts aside, Dalton already has more than twice those numbers through twelve games.
The Bears have a defense, but their pass rush fell off some time ago with the loss of Leonard Floyd. Without that, they’ve been a rudderless ship, going as far as using Jordan Howard as a crutch can take them. Howard’s an excellent player, ranking third in attempts with 212 and fifth in rushing yards with 885. He’s crossed the goal line five times on the ground. He can get his against the Bengals defense, but his efforts haven’t translated to wins and won’t magically start now.
It ought to be a low-scoring affair overall, but the Bengals shouldn’t have a problem winning.
Bengals 20, Bears 13