Five on the Bengals
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Two desperate teams square off at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday when the Bengals host the Eagles.
After a 3-0 start, Philadelphia has dropped six of eight and really has no margin of error moving forward if it hopes to compete for a wild-card spot over the final five games of the season.
Things are even worse in Cincinnati where Marvin Lewis’ 14-year tenure could be drawing to a close as it certainly looks like the 3-7-1 Bengals will be missing the postseason for the first time in six years.
Here’s what you need to know on the Bengals:
THE POSTSEASON PANIC
The Bengals, like the Eagles, are in dire straits when it comes to the postseason and in Cincinnati’s case that would mean the end of a franchise-record five-year run on the playoffs.
The Bengals are chasing two 6-5 teams in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, meaning there is also no margin of error Lewis' team moving forward. That said the veteran coach still believes in a talented team that has underachieved.
“We are not done,” Lewis told the team after losing a tough one to the Ravens last week. “We have to take care of our business and win the last five, and yes, we are going to need help. We’ve got seven losses, and the teams we’re chasing both have five. We have one more
game against each of them, and they play each other once. So you can do the math. Don’t let yourselves be done. Don’t give in. There’s nothing to do at this point but fight.”
That starts with the Eagles.
THE QUEEN CITY
The Eagles are one of three NFL teams that has never won in Cincinnati.
Obviously, Philadelphia doesn’t visit that often but still, the Eagles are 0-3-1 in the city limits with the last meeting being back in 2008, the famed Donovan McNabb tie game (13-13) in which the former Eagles quarterback did not seem to understand the NFL’s rules when it came to deadlocks.
CARLOS THE PLAYMAKER
Geno Atkins, one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, gets most of the ink when it comes to the Bengals’ defensive line but Carlos Dunlap has been the biggest playmaker for Cincinnati’s defense this season.
The rangy defensive end had two passes defended against the Ravens last week, boosting his season total to an NFL-best 10, and for the second time, one of those deflections led to an interception when linebacker Rey Maualuga snagged Dunlap’s re-direction of a Joe Flacco pass.
Dunlap, meanwhile, also had a sack against Baltimore and has 6 ½ on the season, two ahead of Atkins.
The Eagles corner triumvirate of Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and rookie Jalen Mills has faced a murderer’s row of receivers this season and that was set to continue in this game until Bengals star A.J. Green injured his hamstring a couple weeks ago against Buffalo.
Randy Moss is currently the only player in NFL history to have hit the 1,000 mark in receiving yards in each of his first six seasons, but Green has topped 1,000 in each of his five full seasons and has 964 in 2016, just 36 short but he is not expected to go against Philadelphia.
How big is the Green loss?
Consider what his quarterback says: “He’s the best receiver in the league,” Andy Dalton said.
“There’s nobody out there like A.J.”
After missing the first six games of the season due to injury, Bengals TE Tyler Eifert, a 2015 Pro Bowl selection, is back and clicking on all cylinders, already at 21 catches for 312 yards, with two touchdowns. Last week at Baltimore, he led the team in receiving yards (68), ranked tied for second in catches (five) and scored Cincinnati’s lone TD on a three-yard pass from Dalton in the third quarter.
A nightmare in the red zone, Eifert’s athleticism and catching radius with make him a handful for Jim Schwartz and his defense.
973espn.com Prediction: Something has to give here and unfortunately for the Eagles, it’s probably going to be the Bengals’ penchant for shooting themselves in the foot. The absence of Green and injured running back Giovani Bernard will keep things close but it’s tough to imagine a Philadelphia offense virtually devoid of playmakers scoring enough to finally get a win in Cincinnati. Bengals 20, Eagles 16
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen