The Bengals didn’t play a football game last week. They were among the six teams assigned an opportune bye at the midpoint of the regular season.
Elsewhere last week, the New Orleans Saints hosted the 7-0 Rams. After a total of 80 points were scored and 970 yards were gained/surrendered, the Rams fell to 7-1. The Saints rose to 7-1 themselves as a result, and enter this weekend having won each of their last seven contests. With the Rams no longer undefeated, the Saints possess the longest active consecutive winning streak in the NFL.
From any perspective, this Saints unit looks like a buzzsaw. Few fans would bet against them on a neutral field, regardless of the opponent. Fewer still would take that bet with the Bengals on the other side. Given the state of the Bengals’ injury report, a blowout would be understandable. It may not be fun, but any team is prone to get steamrolled when matched up against a steamroller.
Of course, there’s another side to this. It’s unlikely that the Saints win fifteen straight games and finish the season 15-1 – the NFL is too even for that. Assuming any of their remaining games ends in a loss, this one’s as likely as any. The Bengals have the third-best record of any team the remaining on the Saints’ schedule, they had the bye week to prepare, and the game is in Cincinnati. Teams pull out wins in the NFL against longer odds, and with less justification, all the time. Don’t be surprised if the Bengals, decimated as they are, find a way to win.
OUT: DE Marcus Davenport
QUESTIONABLE: WR Dez Bryant
Also listed: OT Terron Armstead, OT Andrus Peat, OT Ryan Ramczyk, C Max Unger, G Larry Warford, CB P.J. Williams
OUT: LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Darqueze Dennard, WR A.J. Green, TE Tyler Kroft, LB Nick Vigil
DOUBTFUL: G Alex Redmond
QUESTIONABLE: RB Giovani Bernard
Also listed: G Clint Boling, C Billy Price, WR John Ross, TE C.J. Uzomah
Discussion about how the Saints’ defense can slow down the Bengals’ offense, or vice versa, is likely moot. Through their eight games this season, the Saints have managed to score 40 or more points four times. They’ve won by over ten points only twice. This is a team that wins by scoring at will and daring their opponents to keep pace. Sometimes, as with the Rams, this makes for a captivating shootout. Other times, it makes for a less-interesting display of an opponent sputtering in a cloud of dust.
From the box scores, the formula for the Saints’ offensive success would look surprisingly simple. Quarterback Drew Brees, running back Alvin Kamara, and receiver Michael Thomas all touch the ball a lot and are very good at what they do with it. Brees, potentially on his way to his first MVP award, has thrown 18 touchdown passes this season against 1 interception. Kamara, in his 162 touches this season, has advanced for 917 yards and scored 12 times. Thomas ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (880) and second in receptions (70). Tre’Quan Smith and Ted Ginn hold the next-highest mark among Saints wide receivers at 12 receptions each – one-and-a-half per game.
So how can the Bengals’ offense keep pace with these players? A.J. Green would be immensely helpful, but he’s unavailable for this game. Tyler Boyd has pulled his weight at the receiver position, but the unit will need other players to step up. Tight end doesn’t look much better with Tyler Kroft ruled out.
There might be something to the Saints’ entire starting offensive line being on the injury report. It’s possible they all play, but one or more being held out wouldn’t be surprising. The unit has been phenomenal this season – any opportunity to exploit a moment of weakness from them would be worth looking for.
Prediction: Saints 31, Bengals 24