The Bengals are 5-8. From a playoff contention standpoint – somehow – they’re not eliminated yet. Regardless of what else happens, if they win this week, they’ll still be in the playoff picture.
That being said, no one – not even the team, if last week was an indication – believes they have a shot. The Bengals were routed at home last Sunday by a Bears team who’s season, competitively speaking, had long since ended. Injuries on the back end of the defense played a part, but the problems went far past that. Head coach Marvin Lewis, notorious for his Teflon job security in Cincinnati, is (finally) firmly on the proverbial hot seat. For a vocal portion of Bengals fans, the results of this game are meaningless – they’re anxiously awaiting the next era. They care nothing for the hollow efforts of a dead team walking.
Does that mean there’s no reason for a Bengals fan to watch, or that the game won’t be generally entertaining? Not necessarily. The Vikings boast one of the best rosters that the NFC, and the NFL in general, have to offer in 2017. The matchup looms as a potential litmus test for certain young, talented players that Bengals fans are rightfully excited about.
OUT: LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, LB Kevin Minter, LB Nick Vigil
DOUBTFUL: DE Michael Johnson
QUESTIONABLE: HB Joe Mixon, S Shawn Williams
Also listed: HB Giovani Bernard, CB Darqueze Dennard, DE Carlos Dunlap, TE Tyler Kroft, OT Cedric Ogbuehi, DT Pat Sims, OT Andre Smith, OT Eric Winston
OUT: CB Mackensie Alexander
DOUBTFUL: OT Riley Reiff, TE Kyle Rudolph
QUESTIONABLE: LB Emmanuel Lamur
Also listed: TE Blake Bell, C Pat Elflein, DT Linval Joseph, RB Jerick McKinnon, TE David Morgan, OT Mike Remmers, CB Xavier Rhodes, DT Shamar Stephen, OG Jermiah Sirles, WR Adam Thielen
OddsShark Predicted Score: Minnesota 36.8, Cincinnati 8.6
Spread Consensus: Minnesota -11
First of all: that’s not a nice-looking injury report, no matter which team you’re pulling for.
(Although, aesthetically, the Vikings official website does a great job with their injury report. Both teams fully listed, separate lists for each ‘out’, ‘doubtful’, and ‘questionable’ player. Even included the relevant injury tag for each player on both teams. All the information, cleanly presented; possibly the best-run injury report ship in the league.)
Second of all: the guys in the desert really aren’t giving the Bengals much of a chance. Elsewhere in the NFL this week, the Texans are traveling to Jacksonville and Bryce Petty’s Jets play in New Orleans. Those are the only other games in Week 15 that begin Saturday with a double-digit spread.
Ignoring the overall score, since most fans are past that this season: A.J. Green versus Xavier Rhodes is prime television. At least it can be, if Green plays like he’s supposed to and Rhodes’ hip is functionally healthy. On the other side of the ball, watching William Jackson in coverage against Adam Thielen could be similarly enticing. While Jackson has received less national acclaim, both players are among the biggest breakout stars of the 2017 NFL campaign.
Elsewhere on the Bengals defense: backup linebackers will be in the spotlight at all three positions (for better or worse). Carl Lawson (technically a linebacker) could have a big day bending the edge if the Bengals get in relevant situations. The Vikings have serious injury concerns at both tackle spots, even if both starters ultimately end up playing.
Does this mean the Bengals have a favorable matchup? Depends on how many blitzes the backup linebackers are capable of executing (likely few) and coordinator Paul Guenther is willing to call (again, likely few). That’s the secret that enabled the Panthers to take the Vikings down in Carolina last Sunday – copious amounts of pressure.
Given, injuries to the line likely helped Carolina, and theirs is a defensive front already stocked with talent that knows how to execute various blitzes. It also likely helped the Panthers that the Vikings were on their third game of a three-game road stand. And that the two prior games both came against NFC playoff contenders in Detroit and Atlanta.
Back to the overall score: the odds may not be as bad as Vegas thinks, but they’re bad. The Vikings will be out to right their ship in front of their home crowd. The Bengals aren’t necessarily out to do anything aside from not embarrass themselves. The Vikings have the tools on hand to accomplish their goal; the Bengals aren’t nearly as fortunate.
Don’t expect a bloodbath, but a win probably isn’t in the cards.
Bengals 13, Vikings 24