AFC East: Cincinnati Bengals

Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast episode No. 8. Host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) and Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings reporter) discuss a range of topics from the Bills going on the market to the ongoing controversy surrounding the name of the NFL’s Washington, D.C. franchise to garage sales, yes, garage sales. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
Andy Dalton and Dannell EllerbeGetty Images, AP PhotoIt will be up to Dannell Ellerbe and the Miami defense to slow down Andy Dalton and the Bengals.
Two teams streaking in opposite directions will meet on Halloween night when the Miami Dolphins host the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Dolphins (3-4) enter this game on a four-game losing streak, while the first-place Bengals (6-2), one of the NFL's hottest teams, are on a four-game winning streak.

Will the Bengals continue their winning ways? Can Miami save its season at home? ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey and Dolphins reporter James Walker weigh in:

James Walker: Coley, I expect an entertaining game between these two teams. Not only do they match up well, but the fact that one team is so hot and the other can't buy a win makes it intriguing. This is a must-win game from Miami's perspective. This team could be on the verge of losing its confidence if things don't change soon. The Dolphins haven't won a game since Sept. 22, and each week it appears more challenging to get over the hump.

The Dolphins gave the New England Patriots their best shot this past Sunday by taking a 17-3 lead at halftime. Then, New England scored 24 unanswered points to deflate the Dolphins. That's a shot in the gut that could be tough to recover from on a short week. And it certainly didn't help when starting offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team.

I'm sure things are more rosy in Cincinnati. What's the mood of the Bengals entering Thursday night’s game?

Coley Harvey: Bengals fans are on Clouds 9, 10, 11 ... do they make a Cloud 100? Seriously, the Queen City is all abuzz about the statement Andy Dalton and Marvin Jones made in Sunday's 49-9 pummeling of the New York Jets. Not only does it appear that Dalton has found a nice mechanical passing rhythm, but he has been in better sync with his receivers. In the past three games alone, he has passed for 1,063 yards and 11 touchdowns. He connected with a minimum of seven receivers in each of those games.

Along with that offensive production, the defense has been pretty stout, as well. The Bengals haven't allowed a touchdown in two of their last four games. Those performances happened to come against AFC East teams (the Patriots and Jets).

So yes, plenty of reasons for people in southwest Ohio to be excited. But what about in South Florida? How are things there? I can't imagine the mood has been very peaceful since this collapse began. As a former Florida resident, I have tons of Dolphins fans for friends. I've had to talk several off the ledge recently.

Walker: Many South Florida fans are glad it's basketball season. The Dolphins have frustrated football fans for so long that they are used to quickly turning the page when the Miami Heat get their season started. The defending NBA champs are now the biggest source of pride in Miami when it comes to sports. It's been a while since the Dolphins held that claim. The Dolphins are having trouble packing their stadium and will need to produce consecutive winning seasons for most fans to stay on board longer than a few games. It's a harsh sports town in that respect.

Another topic I want to touch on is the quarterbacks. Dalton has caught fire recently. Is this sustainable for the rest of the year or just a short-term fluke?

Harvey: It's hard to tell, James. I get asked this very question or some variation of it every week, and just when I think he has hit his ceiling and played the best game he possibly could, Dalton comes out and rips off another impressive performance. I'm hesitant to say it's a short-term fluke now; I'm starting to think he's got something special going.

What has led to such solid, consistent play of late from him? If you ask the Bengals, they'll say it has to do with trust and confidence. Dalton feels much more at ease with knowing that any of his receivers, not just A.J. Green, will make big plays. Sunday's franchise-record four-touchdown effort from Jones showed just that. If I had to guess, though, I'd say Dalton just finally got fed up with all the negative press he had been getting. After posting a 29.7 QBR in the Bengals' 17-6 loss at Cleveland in Week 4, he took quite a beating. Since then, he has been a completely different player.

What has been Ryan Tannehill's issue of late? It's kind of surprising to see that Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline have only three touchdown receptions between them.

Walker: Just like Dalton in Cincinnati, Tannehill also is a hot topic weekly in Miami. I don't doubt his natural ability. He has most of the things you look for in a quarterback: strong arm, good mobility, can throw on the run, steady demeanor. However, I'm starting to see some recurring weaknesses after 23 career starts that make me question Tannehill's long-term prospects. His pocket presence is subpar. He doesn't have a good feel or that sixth sense for the pass rush. That has led to Tannehill holding the ball too long and often taking clean shots, which have resulted in a team-high five lost fumbles. If Tannehill can learn how to slide in the pocket and feel the rush better, that will increase his chances of taking the next step.

But to some degree, it's also hard to fully evaluate Tannehill when he has been sacked 32 times and his rushing attack is ranked 23rd in the NFL. He isn't getting consistent help from his supporting cast.

Finally, the Bengals are much less dominant on the road than they are at home. What has been the difference and what has to go right Thursday for Cincinnati to improve to 7-2?

Harvey: It is true that both of the Bengals' losses this season came on the road, but they came before the massive Dalton turnaround and at least one of them should have been a win. Down 24-21 and out of timeouts with just more than a minute to go in their season opener at Chicago, the Bengals' defense had just made a crucial third-down stop when middle linebacker Rey Maualuga got tangled up with a Bears offensive lineman. The lineman kept blocking after the whistle, Maualuga didn't like that and retaliated with a body slam. The refs saw the body slam and flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct. Had that play not occurred, the Bengals would have gotten the ball back and might have been able to stage the type of last-minute rally that led to their last road win.

The other loss came when they just didn't show up at all at Cleveland in Week 4. While their recent road success -- games won in back-to-back weeks on field goals in overtime and as time expired in regulation -- is reason enough for Bengals fans to feel good about Thursday night's game, some are worried they'll see a flat Cincinnati team at Sun Life Stadium. The Bengals were beat up Sunday and are just hoping to survive this short week. Maualuga is one of four defensive starters who won't be playing in this game.

The New York Jets have been riding the mediocrity train for almost two years, having won back-to-back games only once in a 26-game span. Their record following a victory is 1-9, with an eye-opening average margin of defeat -- 17 points. Can't handle prosperity? That's an understatement. They're allergic to it.

They can change the perception Sunday in Cincinnati, where they meet the red-hot Bengals (5-2), who have won three straight. As Rex Ryan continues to tell his team, there's no league rule that prohibits winning two in a row. Pushing while trying to block a field goal? Yes. A winning streak? No.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium. What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith has yet to string together back-to-back wins this season.
1. Call him Geno (The Elevator) Smith: The Jets are up and down because their rookie quarterback is up and down. Geno Smith is 0-3 after wins, having played poorly in each game -- a total of one touchdown and seven interceptions in those contests. He was horrible in his two previous games against top-10 defenses (Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans), and the Bengals are ranked No. 9 in total defense. The Bengals had gone 20 straight games without allowing a 300-yard passer, the longest streak in the league, but they surrendered 357 last week to the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford. They won't have their top defensive back, cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles' tendon), who covered the slot on third down. That could mean another big day for Smith and wide reciever Jeremy Kerley, who was deadly last week in the slot.

Oh, by the way: Since 2008, under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals are only 7-8 against rookie quarterbacks.

2. Battle for defensive-line bragging rights: This game features two of the better lines in the league. The Bengals' four-man front has combined for 12 sacks; the Jets' front (counting rush linebacker Quinton Coples) has 10.5. Bengals defensive tackleGeno Atkins is the most accomplished lineman among both teams. Since 2010, he has more sacks (24.5) than any interior lineman in the league. He'll be a huge challenge for the Jets' guards, Willie Colon and rookie Brian Winters. Truth be told, the Bengals pose problems across the board. Their ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, are tough assignments for Austin Howard and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, respectively. Ferguson is coming off a shaky performance.

At the same time, the Bengals won't have it easy with Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., but they got a preview two weeks ago when they beat the Buffalo Bills, who run almost the identical scheme as the Jets. Center Kyle Cook did such a good job of reading the Bills' fronts that he received a game ball. The Bengals refer to the Jets' defense as "Buffalo on steroids." That's a compliment, by the way.

3. A pair of two-headed monsters: The two teams share a similar philosophy in the backfield, each running the ground game through two players. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory form a workmanlike tandem, steady if not spectacular (no runs longer than 27 yards). The Jets rode Ivory last week, but look for Powell to return to a prominent role. They need his cutback ability against the Bengals' aggressive front. The Jets are aware of a quote from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who said: “They’re going to figure out probably in the first 15, 20 snaps that running’s going to be pretty hard against our front seven.”

The Bengals split the carries between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, a Darren Sproles type. The Bengals are a better offense when Bernard is on the field. They average 5.8 yards per play when he's in, 5.3 when he's out, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They've also been throwing to him more the last two weeks out of the backfield. He'll be a tough cover for the Jets.

4. Green vs. Green: The Jets have a lot of respect for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Asked what advice he'd give cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who most likely will cover Green, coordinator Dennis Thurman said, "Get your hands on him and pray." This is an enormous game for Cromartie. If he can't contain Green, who has been targeted a league-high 77 times, the Jets have no shot. One out of every four throws to Green is a deep shot, so Cromartie had better stay awake. Green is third in receiving yards (619) and he has a hot quarterback, Andy Dalton, looking for this third straight 300-yard passing day.

Dalton has five players with at least 20 catches apiece, the kind of balance that will present issues for the Jets. Saferty Antonio Allen did a nice job last week on Rob Gronkowski, but this is Gronkowski times two. The Bengals use a lot of two-tight end packages with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, who sometimes lines up as a receiver in an isolation play. That could be a mismatch for a cornerback.

5. Special teams will be huge: Write it down. Both teams have a tendency to play close games, so field position and field-goal kicking will be vital. Who's hotter than Nick Folk? He's 16-for-16 in field goals, including three game winners. Former Jets place kicker Mike Nugent kicked the game winner last week in Detroit, so he has to be feeling good about himself. One thing about Nugent: He had no touchbacks in his last home game. His short leg on kickoffs could create some opportunities for new kick returner Josh Cribbs, who is familiar with the surroundings from his years with the Cleveland Browns. Oddly, Cribbs hasn't scored a touchdown of any kind in 18 career games against the Bengals.

Double Coverage: Jets at Bengals

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
12:30
PM ET
Green/SmithUSA TODAY SportsA.J. Green, left, and the Bengals hope to stay hot against Geno Smith and the surprising Jets.
Rookie quarterbacks have caused the Cincinnati Bengals problems in recent seasons, as their 7-8 record against them since 2008 attests. On Sunday afternoon in the familiar confines of Paul Brown Stadium, they hope to pull that record even when Geno Smith and the New York Jets come to town.

Just like the Bengals' own young quarterback, Smith has found the winning formula the past five weeks, winning three games in that span. All four of the wins he has engineered this season have become victories because of game-winning drives he has led. While there might be other factors at play that are contributing more to New York's 4-3 record, there isn't much denying that Smith has had some hand in it, too.

As they interrupt a four-cities-in-five-weeks road tour with this home game, the Bengals are looking to extend their winning streak to four. In this edition of Double Coverage, ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey and Jets reporter Rich Cimini look at what could contribute to that happening or to Cincinnati losing and dropping to 5-3.

Coley Harvey: So Rich, Sunday’s game will feature two of the three players in the league named Geno. Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins and Jets quarterback Geno Smith have earned rather impressive headlines this season. In Atkins’ case, it was for signing his $55 million contract extension five days before the season opener. Recently, Smith’s headlines have come from the four game-winning drives he’s led. Both are good young players, but something will have to give. How confident are Smith and the Jets that they’ll be able to keep Atkins and the rest of Cincinnati’s defensive line out of their backfield?

Rich Cimini: You just hit on one of the keys to the game, Coley. The Jets have allowed a lot of sacks (25), but I think many of those can be attributed to Smith, who tends to hold the ball too long. That said, the line needs to do a better job, especially the left side. Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and rookie guard Brian Winters allowed two sacks apiece last week, bringing their totals to four and three, respectively. That's not a good number for Winters, who has started only three games. I don't see how he handles Atkins; he's simply not ready for that kind of challenge this soon. There are some tough matchups across the board for the Jets. The coaches will have to game plan ways for Smith to get the ball out quickly. I see Andy Dalton is coming off a big game. Is the Bengals' offense for real?

Harvey: It’s tough to really answer that question, Rich. One week the Bengals' offense looks for real, the next, it looks like a cheap imitation of its former self. Thankfully for the Bengals, though, the ineptitude they have shown offensively at times this season hasn’t shown up in the past three weeks. You could say Dalton is a big reason why. He is, after all, coming off back-to-back 300-yard passing performances. The more likely reason this offense has started taking off, though, lies in something Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth talks about often: the apparent “matchup problems” the Bengals create. In addition to receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals have quality second- and third-tier receivers in Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, a pair of ball-seeking tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert and a balanced rushing attack led by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the shifty Giovani Bernard. Cincinnati has finally figured out how to use all these weapons, and it's paying off.

The Bengals’ offensive line has been a group of unsung heroes of sorts, too. They had a fairly easy challenge last week preparing for Detroit’s line-first pass rush. Just how complex are the looks the Jets’ multiple defensive fronts give teams this season? Could the Jets' defense be a key to this game?

Cimini: Definitely. The Jets are ranked fourth in total defense, due largely to the line. We're witnessing the emergence of something special. The linemen are all good, and they're all young, starting with Muhammad Wilkerson, who is on his way to his first Pro Bowl. The next-best is rookie Sheldon Richardson, a high-energy player who shows up in the running game and the passing game. Quinton Coples is listed as a rush linebacker, but he's often in a three-point stance. He's coming off his best game of the season. This is what happens when you draft a defensive lineman in each of the past three first rounds. The Jets will control the Bengals' running game, and they will get after Dalton on obvious passing downs, but they're vulnerable to quick, short passes. That's how you neutralize the Jets' big fellas.

The Jets did a good job last week against the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski, but now they face a double threat at tight end with Gresham and Eifert. How are they being utilized?

Harvey: So that’s the way to neutralize the Jets’ front, huh? Bad news for Gang Green: Short, quick passes are the Bengals’ forte. Dalton has thrived throwing them all season. On passes that have traveled 5 yards or less, he has the league’s highest completion percentage at 76.7 percent. On 66 completions from that range, he has thrown for 500 yards. Of those, 316 have come after the catch.

Eifert and Gresham certainly are major contributors to that short-passing game, grabbing balls off flare screens and slants across the middle. Last week, though, Eifert caught his first touchdown pass of the season when he ran a seam route deep into the Lions’ secondary for a 32-yard reception. While they are tight ends and do their share of pass blocking and run blocking, Eifert and Gresham are true threats in the Bengals’ passing game, too.

Going back to Geno Smith for a moment. What has been the trick the past few weeks to him leading these game-winning drives?

Cimini: The trick? I go back to something Rex Ryan said a few weeks ago. I asked him what he learned from his first experience with a rookie quarterback (Mark Sanchez, 2009), and he said, "Make sure you have a great defense." So, yes, Smith has enjoyed some dramatic moments, but they're 4-3 because of the defense. But since you asked about Smith ...

He became the first rookie since the merger in 1970 to register four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games. Clearly, his signature drive came against the Falcons, when he drove them to the winning field goal in the final two minutes. In the other three game-winning drives, he attempted a total of five passes, including a 69-yard touchdown strike. Obviously, we're not talking about a lot of passing shows. But he never gets visibly rattled, he always seems in control -- good qualities to have. Do you think Smith could have some success against the Leon Hall-less secondary? The Lions' Matthew Stafford picked them apart for 357 yards.

Harvey: It’s certainly possible. The Bengals are going to be bringing in one of their own young players, second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to perform some of the responsibilities that had been Hall’s. Kirkpatrick will be playing some in the slot, he’ll be playing some outside. You’ll see recently signed veteran Chris Crocker taking some of Hall’s snaps. Adam Jones will be getting some, as well. And assuming he’s healthy enough to play, Terence Newman will be getting his share of opportunities to lock down the Jets’ receivers. In short, without Hall, it’ll be a cornerback-by-committee setup for the Bengals. It’s worked before, most notably against the Patriots in Week 5, when Hall was out with a hamstring injury. The week before, the Bengals still held the Browns in check defensively, even though they ended up losing that game 17-6.

Cincinnati’s main concern, judging from last week’s Jets-Patriots game, seems to be stopping New York’s running game. A lot of people here this week have been comparing the Jets to the Bills with respect to the potency of their multi-back running game. As someone who will see the Bills twice this season, do you think that’s a fair comparison to make for a defense that’s used to facing truer pass-first offenses?

Cimini: The Jets use a two-man committee, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory. In that sense, they compare to the Bills. In terms of ability, they're not as potent as the Bills. The Jets don't have a C.J. Spiller-type, meaning a home-run threat. They are the ultimate grind-it-out rushing attack. Their most explosive back, Mike Goodson, blew out his knee two weeks ago, so he's done for the seaosn -- and they will miss his ability to threaten the perimeter. Powell and Ivory are a nice tandem, each capable of a 100-yard rushing day on any given Sunday, but I wouldn't say either one possesses special qualities. Powell is more of a slasher than Ivory, who reminds me of a poor man's Marshawn Lynch. In other words, he runs with some nasty. You won't see them running too often outside the tackles. They also mix in some Wildcat and read-option, maybe five to 10 plays a game. Recently signed Josh Cribbs, no stranger to the AFC North, got a couple of reps last week in the Wildcat. I wouldn't sleep on him if I were the Bengals.

There was a lot of chatter in New York before the draft about the possibility of picking Bernard. What has he brought to the Bengals' offense?

Harvey: Yeah, I don’t think anybody in Cincinnati is going to sleep on Cribbs. They know better than most teams just what he can do. With respect to the Jets’ overall rushing game, it was kind of surprising to hear Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict almost nonchalantly dismiss it this week. He said he didn’t think the Bengals would have much issue stopping it, saying that after “15, 20 plays” the Jets would realize it wouldn’t work. Big, bold talk from the NFL’s leading tackler. Then again, Burfict is the one who was scolded this training camp for bringing Bernard to the ground during a practice drill, so maybe he really can talk that talk.

Bernard really is a special player, Rich. New York had good reason to be excited about possibly drafting him. He’s quick, shifty, has great acceleration and is a home run threat. His two receiving touchdowns have come on short screen passes that ended up becoming longer gains. Both scores were caught at the line of scrimmage and resulted in 20- and 27-yard touchdowns, respectively. He certainly brings a unique dimension to the passing game.

This game features a pair of head coaches who know one another quite well. When Bengals fans, like most people outside New York, think Rex Ryan, they think of his hijinks with the media and his always-second-guessed decisions. Who is Rex the coach, in your opinion?

Cimini: Ryan has changed this season, Coley. He's not the walking sound bite he was in his first few years. A few reasons for that, I think: First, he has a new boss, general manager John Idzik, an old-school, buttoned-down guy who doesn't care for all the yapping. Obviously, Ryan is coaching for his job, so in the interest of self-preservation, he has conformed to fit Idzik's head-coaching model. Second, I think Ryan realized before the season this was going to be a very young team. He knew he wouldn't be doing the players any favors by making bold predictions. Maybe you can do that with a veteran team, as he did in 2009 and 2010, but it doesn't make sense to put that kind of pressure on kids. He also has taken on more of a teaching role, running the defense on a day-to-day basis. So far, it's all working out. I don't think there's any doubt that, through seven games, he's on his way to a contract extension.

.

QB Watch: Jets' Geno Smith

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
10:45
AM ET
A weekly examination of the New York Jets' quarterback position:

Smith
Rewind: Geno Smith became the first quarterback since the 1970 merger to register four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games. He did it with a 30-27 overtime win over the New England Patriots. It took some luck (see the controversial "push" penalty on the Patriots) and it took some micromanaging by the coaching staff. After a 6-for-10 first quarter, Smith went only 13-for-23 the rest of the way. The coaches dialed it back as soon as he was intercepted for a touchdown at the end of the first quarter. Smith managed the conservative game plan nicely, converting on third down and running when necessary.

Fast forward: The Jets go on the road to face the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2). This will be one of Smith's toughest challenges, as the Bengals are ranked ninth in total defense. Smith played poorly against the other top-10 defenses he faced, the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 6) and the Tennessee Titans (No. 10). The Bengals aren't a big blitzing team -- they've rushed five or more on only 25 percent of the dropbacks -- but they generate excellent pressure from their front four. They will miss CB Leon Hall, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon.

New-look depth chart: The Jets made it official Monday, placing David Garrard on the active roster after a two-week exemption. Matt Simms will remain the No. 2 quarterback, according to Rex Ryan. Garrard's job is to carry the clipboard and serve as a mentor to Smith. Garrard, 35, who came out of retirement for this gig, will be paid handsomely -- $54,000 per week, based on his $925,000 salary. If Garrard is pressed into action, the Jets are in trouble in more ways than one. He hasn't taken a snap since 2010.

Prediction: On paper, this isn't a good matchup for Smith. The Bengals are a very good home team, with a talented and physical defense. Prepare for an afternoon of growing pains.

Green Day: Greg McBrain has Jets intel

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
6:00
AM ET
Remember Greg McElroy? Sure, you do. Until two months ago, he was one of the names of the New York Jets' quarterback carousel. He's a guy who started ahead of Tim Tebow last season when Mark Sanchez was benched. Ah, fun times.

A short time before he gave McElroy a pink slip, Rex Ryan referred to him as the "smartest guy in the building." Coming out of Alabama, he almost aced the Wonderlic test, scoring a 48 out of a possible 50. This week, that brain will be working against Ryan & Co.

McElroy is a member of the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad and, although he won't be in uniform Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, he will impact the game by what he contributes before Sunday. He will be an invaluable resouce for the Bengals, a virtual scout with intimate knowledge of the Jets' schemes and personnel.

McElroy was exposed to Marty Mornhinweg's offense for only five months, but believe me, he knew it cold. Mornhinweg may have to change his audibles, because you can bet McElroy will be sharing his intel with the Bengals' defense. He also spent four months with Geno Smith, so he knows his strengths and weaknesses. I'm telling you, McElroy has a chance to be a general manager some day -- if he's not in politics or working college games for ESPN.

The Jets might be preparing for the Bengals' No.1 red-headed quarterback, Andy Dalton, but the other red head -- McElroy -- is preparing for them.

ICYMI: Tough times for Bill Belichick. First, he lost to the Jets. Second, he admitted he botched a rule interpretation on the controversial field goal push play. On Tuesday, he decided to fire back at the Jets. ... Four fans from Sunday's game, including the Long Island lout who slugged a woman, were charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct. That includes the woman who was struck. ... We analyzed the game tape. Yes, we study tape here at ESPN.com. ... See where the Jets landed in the current ESPN.com power poll.
DETROIT -- The Cincinnati Bengals left home earlier this weekend knowing they would be healthy when they met the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday.

For that reason, they knew they wouldn't have to juggle their roster to accommodate for injured players before the nonconference showdown. Still, they had to trim their 53-man roster down to 46 active players ahead of the ballgame. They have done just that.

Among the list of inactive players will be cornerback Brandon Ghee, a four-year veteran who has dealt with injuries much of the season. He wasn't listed on the Bengals' injury report after returning from a thigh injury the week before. He also missed much of the preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season with a concussion. Ghee's inclusion on the inactives list was a sign that cornerback Terence Newman, who missed Wednesday's and Thursday's practices, will indeed play. He had been declared probable after working out Friday.

Like Sunday, Ghee probably could have played last week. He was declared inactive then in part to make room for cornerback Leon Hall, who returned to action last week after a hamstring injury held him out for two games. Another cornerback, Chris Lewis-Harris, made it to this Sunday's inactives as well.

Another addition to the list of inactives was center Trevor Robinson, who was declared inactive for the first time this season after guard Mike Pollak recovered from a knee injury and was added to the active roster.

Here is the full list of Bengals and Lions inactives:

Bengals: CB Brandon Ghee, RB Rex Burkhead, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, C Trevor Robinson, OG Tanner Hawkinson, WR Ryan Whalen, DE Margus Hunt

Lions: WR Nate Burleson, QB Kellen Moore, Jonte Green CB, RB Theo Riddick, OG Leroy Harris, OT Jason Fox, TE Tony Scheffler
A weekly examination of the Bengals' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 9 | Last Week: 8 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

A road win at Buffalo wasn't enough to push the Cincinnati Bengals up any spots in the Week 7 ESPN.com Power Rankings unveiled Tuesday afternoon. For the second straight week, they settled at No. 8.

The Bengals first reached the 8-hole after beating the New England Patriots 13-6 last week. This past weekend they edged out the Bills in overtime 27-24. Had Cincinnati closed out Buffalo in the fourth quarter like it appeared to be doing, it likely would have moved up at least one spot in the power rankings. With 10 minutes to go in regulation, the Bengals held a 14-point lead and seemed to have momentum. The Bills, directed by former practice squad quarterback Thad Lewis, though, scored twice more and knotted the game at 24 entering overtime. For now, it seems the power rankings voters aren't fully convinced the Bengals are the type of elite team they believe they are.

When Cincinnati travels to Detroit on Sunday, it has a very real opportunity to prove the voters wrong. The Lions are ranked 11th this week and hold a commanding 3-0 record at home.

Live blog: Bengals at Bills

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
10:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Cincinnati Bengals' visit to the Buffalo Bills. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Double Coverage: Bengals at Bills

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
12:00
PM ET
Burfict/LewisGetty ImagesThad Lewis, right, will be making just his second career start against Vontaze Burfict and the eighth-ranked Bengals defense.
The Buffalo Bills might not have played Sunday after their 37-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns last Thursday, but it was still a busy weekend for the Bills (2-3), who sit at the bottom of the AFC East.

With EJ Manuel out several weeks with a knee injury, head coach Doug Marrone made the decision early Monday morning to sign Thad Lewis off the practice squad and start him Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

It won't be an easy task for Lewis, who will be making his second career start. The Bengals (3-2) are coming off a rain-soaked home win over the New England Patriots. They'll now look for their first road win of the season.

ESPN.com Bills team reporter Mike Rodak and ESPN.com Bengals team reporter Coley Harvey break down the matchup:

Mike Rodak: Coley, we saw something Sunday that we haven't seen in more than three seasons: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did not throw a touchdown pass, the product of a stingy Bengals defense that held the Patriots to just six points. While they might have received some help from a timely late-game monsoon, it was an impressive showing by Cincinnati despite injuries to some key starters on defense. Is this unit the strength of the Bengals this season, and are they licking their chops to play against a Lewis-led Bills offense this Sunday?

Coley Harvey: I don’t know about licking their chops, Mike. Two weeks ago in Cleveland, the defense was in a similar situation when Brian Hoyer received his second straight start in place of Brandon Weeden. All week, the talk was about the big, bad Bengals defense and the fact that it was going up against a longtime backup quarterback in Hoyer. Well, so much for that talk. Hoyer led the Browns to a pair of 90-yard drives for touchdowns en route to their 17-6 win.

Still, Cincinnati is very pleased with its defense this season. After the way the unit manhandled Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New England, and, to a lesser extent, Chicago, it’s safe to say it is the strength of this team. That might remain the case through Week 17 (and perhaps beyond). The Bengals should get back at least one of those injured starters -- cornerback Leon Hall -- this week. In all honesty, though, like you mentioned, the Bengals haven’t missed him much. Adam Jones and Chris Crocker have done a better-than-admirable job filling Hall’s shoes.

Speaking of injuries, we have to ask about the big one on the Bills’ roster. With Manuel out for the foreseeable future, how confident is Buffalo’s coaching staff that Lewis is the man for the interim quarterback job?

Rodak: I don't think they are very confident, Coley. Marrone said Monday they'll look at the position on a week-to-week basis, hardly a vote of confidence that Lewis will be their quarterback beyond Sunday. I think the Bills simply explored all options and felt Lewis was their best option, but that might not be saying much. Rarely do you see a team promote a quarterback from the practice squad and start him that very next weekend.

The expectation is that Manuel will miss several weeks, perhaps more than a month, with this injury. If he can come back a little sooner than expected, the Bills don't have to worry as much about who their Plan B is after Lewis if he struggles. But if Manuel has any setbacks (would they consider shutting him down for the season if it gets too late and they're out of the hunt?), they will be in a tight spot.

Coley, I've been hearing a lot about Giovani Bernard lately. How is his role increasing in the Bengals' offense, and how much do you expect BenJarvus Green-Ellis to contribute going forward?

Harvey: The whole injury situation is a bummer for Manuel. I guess for me, too. Before starting this beat, I covered football at Florida State. I got to know EJ, Dustin Hopkins, Shawn Powell and Nigel Bradham very well over the years. All good dudes. When the season started, part of me was really looking forward to seeing how each of them played at the professional level. Guess it’s all on Nigel now!

When it comes to Cincinnati’s ground game, it looks like we’re finally starting to see that perfect balance between the two rushers. All season, the media has been asking coach Marvin Lewis about giving more carries to Bernard. The rookie has shown every game since Week 2 that he has big-play potential. Against New England on Sunday, he ripped off a key 28-yard run late in the game. Green-Ellis finally appears to be showing up on the stat sheet. After some dismal performances early in the season, the veteran rushed 19 times for 67 yards and the game’s only touchdown last week against the Patriots. Bernard wasn’t so bad, either, rushing 13 times for 62 yards. I’d expect to see a lot of both this weekend as the Bengals continue to try to better balance their offense.

That seems like a perfect segue into a question about Buffalo’s rushing attack. How exactly does the Bills’ three-man running back rotation work? Obviously, Fred Jackson gets the bulk of the carries, but how complementary will the other two be now that C.J. Spiller is back?

Rodak: Coley, I think the Bills would ideally still like to give more carries to Spiller. He is the more explosive back and is also significantly younger than Jackson. The problem is twofold. First, Spiller can't stay healthy. He said his frustration level is sky-high, and rightfully so. He's been injured twice in the past three games and has struggled with negative runs at points this season. Credit to him, though, for toughing it out last Thursday night and limping his way to a 54-yard touchdown. Second, Jackson has been one of the NFL's best all-around running backs this season. He is 12th in the NFL with 4.75 yards per carry and second in the league (behind only Ben Tate) in yards after contact with 2.40 per carry. He is also a factor in the passing game, ranking 15th in the NFL in total offensive yards.

Going forward, I think Spiller's contributions will depend mostly on his health. If he can get back to full strength, then the Bills probably want to ease Jackson's workload down the stretch. If he can't, then it's almost a lost season for the former first-round pick.

Coley, what's going on with A.J. Green? He has 31 catches for 361 yards and 3 touchdowns through five games. Those are numbers that a lot of receivers would like to put up, but Green isn't just any receiver. He is supposed to be one of the best in the NFL. He ranks 76th in the NFL in yards per reception. What's going wrong?

Harvey: It’s a mix of things, really. For starters, Green and quarterback Andy Dalton haven’t been on the same page for part of the season. There have been a few instances when Dalton expected Green to cut short a route and, instead, he went long. There have been moments when Dalton has had Green wide open and he’s overthrown or underthrown him trying to be too fine with the football. If the pair could just get in sync -- you’d imagine that after three years together they finally would be -- then they have a chance to be a much better duo.

In addition to all of that, the Bengals have started realizing they have several other weapons in addition to Green. There’s Green-Ellis, who became a factor last week; Bernard who, like we mentioned before, has been good in space; and there’s the tight end tandem of Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham. Add all of those guys with Green and the rest of the receivers and you have the perfect scenario in which the Bengals could decide to pass to anyone but him. Still, you’re right. Green has to be more productive with the passes he does catch. Once he figures a way past the double-teams he’s been getting, and once teams start paying more attention to the other playmakers, he’ll come along.

Last question, Mike. The Bills were torched a few times by Travis Benjamin in the punt return game last week. How do you think they plan to stop Jones, a similarly dynamic returner?

Rodak: Well, the Bills made a change at punter this week, bringing back Brian Moorman, who played his first 12 seasons in Buffalo and holds several franchise records. They also made some changes on the back end of their roster, swapping special-teams contributors Marcus Dowtin and Johnny Adams for two others, Ty Powell and Brandon Smith. The Bills were upset with Shawn Powell's hang time in recent weeks and waived him last Friday, so their hope, obviously, is that Moorman can do better in that area.

.

A week ago, Sunday’s New England-Cincinnati game looked like the perfect precursor to a possible rematch in this season's AFC Championship Game. Both teams were trending in a positive direction. Their defenses were stout and healthy. And their offenses looked like they were finally getting into nice rhythms and flows after an offseason that saw both go through personnel changes.

What a difference a week makes.

The Patriots still have that upward trend going. Fresh off a confidence-building 30-23 win in Atlanta, New England comes to Cincinnati this weekend 4-0 and looking like one of the best teams in the league. The only real change is that its once-healthy defense took a major hit with veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork’s season-ending injury.

The Bengals are still dealing with their own health issues as a trio of defensive backs are trying to return this week. Without them, the entire team took a big step backward in a 17-6 loss at Cleveland that had players and coaches searching for answers. They hope they find them this weekend. If not, they’ll fall to 2-3.

For this edition of Double Coverage, we turn to ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss:

Harvey: Mike, we’ll go on and get to the big question I’m sure people all over New England have been asking the past few days: Who in the world is Joe Vellano and can he be an adequate replacement for Vince Wilfork?

Reiss: No, Coley, but that’s not as much of a knock on Vellano as it is a reflection of Wilfork’s excellence. Vellano is an undrafted rookie from the University of Maryland and he had one of the big defensive plays of the Patriots’ 30-23 win over the Falcons on Sunday night -- a third-quarter sack in which he made a quick move on center Peter Konz. He’s considered a bit undersized by NFL standards at 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds but plays with good technique, and Bill Belichick said he’s a first-on-the-field, last-to-leave type of player. Belichick also said there aren’t many Vince Wilforks out there. So it’s a big hit for the Patriots. How are things looking on the Bengals’ injury front?

Harvey: Before covering the Bengals, I got to know Mr. Vellano's play quite well while covering ACC football. Belichick’s assessment is pretty spot on. I’ll certainly be interested to see if, in the interim, he’s able to take over the line in a manner reminiscent of what he did in college.

One other thing I’ll be keeping my eye on this week in Cincinnati is the Bengals’ defensive backfield. Last weekend, three defensive backs (corners Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Reggie Nelson) were declared inactive because of hamstring injuries. The Bengals actually handled Cleveland’s receivers OK without them. The replacements only botched one or two third downs and dropped a couple of interceptions. All signs point to Kirkpatrick making a return this week, but the biggest spots of concern are Hall’s and Nelson’s positions. It could be a rough week if Cincinnati is without them again. Speaking of secondary play, it seems as though Aqib Talib has a pigskin magnet in his hands. What explains his four interceptions?

Reiss: Talib has been a real difference-maker for the Patriots since they acquired him last November from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a trade. He is playing very well, at a Pro Bowl level in my view, and his presence has been a big part of the defense playing at the high level it has through four games. I don’t believe the Patriots have had a true man-to-man matchup cornerback with Talib’s complete package since Ty Law (1995-2004) and that includes Asante Samuel. In Week 3, we saw Talib essentially follow Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson all over the field. It’s possible we see the same type of approach against A.J. Green on Sunday. Fill us in on what makes this Bengals offense go … assuming it’s going anywhere at this point.

Harvey: Well, if we used last week as the only reference point, we would see that the Bengals’ offense isn’t being motored by much at all. There’s no ground game to speak of and the passing game has been inconsistent. The offensive line and tight ends are the only ones who have played at a solid level all season. Aside from the four times Andy Dalton was sacked against Green Bay, the line has mostly kept him upright this season.

In theory, the Bengals want their offensive identity to hinge upon the run setting up the pass. (Earlier this week, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden admitted the unit is still searching for just what that identity is.) They have two running backs in former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, who are more than capable of picking up big yards at any time, but for whatever reason they just haven’t done that consistently this season. Beyond that, Dalton and Green have formed a formidable duo in the passing game.

It looks as though Tom Brady has a few weapons on offense this year. Who are turning into his top targets with Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski out?

Reiss: It has been Julian Edelman and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins (the former Cincinnati Bearcat) playing the majority of snaps at receiver. Edelman is tied for the NFL lead with 34 receptions and he might be one of the more undersold stories in the league. A seventh-round draft choice in 2009 from Kent State who made the transition from college quarterback to NFL receiver/punt returner, he was supposed to be the heir apparent to Wes Welker if the day ever came that Welker was no longer with the club. But a confluence of events, most notably a series of injuries, led to him becoming a free agent this past offseason and he received little interest on the open market. So he came back to New England on a minimum-level, one-year deal, with the chance to earn more in incentives, as the Patriots paid the big bucks to Amendola instead. But with Amendola out the past three games, they’ve needed Edelman more than ever before. He has delivered. Neat story. As I look at the Bengals, one question that keeps cropping up is whether Dalton is that franchise guy to build around. What have you seen from him in that regard?

Harvey: Two Ohio men doing work for the Patriots. I’m sure there will be some proud Buck -- er, Bearcats and Flashes, at Paul Brown Stadium this weekend.

With respect to Dalton, you know, I’m trying to stand in the guy’s corner as long as I can. But the more he has games like last Sunday’s, the tougher it gets to defend him. The thing is this: Dalton has had some really great games in his career. He has thrown for more than 300 yards five times, he has finally beaten the Steelers and Ravens and owns a win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, too. As good as some of those highlights have been, though, he has had some dark days. Few have been as ugly as this past Sunday. He had a season-low 29.7 QBR. Brutal.

On the flip side, Brady looks as though he’s still adding to a Hall of Fame résumé. How much help has he gotten from New England’s rushing game this year? Does it appear the Patriots have a truly balanced scheme this year?

Reiss: The running game has been solid for three of the first four games of the season, the exception being the Sept. 12 win over the Jets (credit to a strong Jets run D that day). The interesting part has been how all the backs are contributing. It’s a true committee with Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden the top three at this time as Shane Vereen is on the injured reserve/designated to return list. The Patriots aren’t afraid to keep it on the ground, as we saw Sunday night when they ran it 10 straight times at one point. Overall, it’s a team that is playing some good complementary football the past two weeks -- offense, defense, special teams. I try not to overlook that third phase, where kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been particularly solid for them. So how do the Bengals look in that area?

Harvey: Last week’s injuries actually forced the Bengals to keep their most electric returner, Adam Jones, off the field in special teams situations. To make sure they had enough healthy corners, they made sure to relegate him to defense-only status. If the Bengals get a little healthier in the secondary, expect to see him back in return scenarios this week. Cincinnati’s punter, Kevin Huber, has been solid all year. Twice this season he has been recognized by ESPN Stats & Info’s Mark Simon as his Punter of the Week awards. Final question: You asked about Dalton. Now I’m asking about Brady. How much longer can he put up the kind of numbers that has made his career so special so far?

Reiss: There is no sign of decline. Part of what has been so impressive about his work this year is that he’s had to break in so many new targets. He said earlier in the year that it has required more patience, and he’s not generally the patient type, but he’s really like another coach. It’s impressive to watch, and because he takes such good care of himself, I wouldn’t count him out from playing past his 40th birthday. Obviously, there needs to be some good health-based fortune for that to happen. But the clock is ticking and one of the storylines that resonated in New England this year was if the team put enough weapons around him to maximize the special opportunity it has with a once-in-a-lifetime talent. It has been a good debate, but here they are at 4-0 and chugging along, with Brady the catalyst.

.

Bengals announce Atkins' extension

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
1:00
PM ET
The Cincinnati Bengals officially announced the five-year extension with defensive tackle Geno Atkins. If you don't believe me, look at Atkins signing the contract.

Here is some reaction about the deal:

Atkins, via Twitter: "Can't thank The Lord enough for blessing me to sign a contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals on this Labor Day. #whodey #5moreyears"

Katie Blackburn, Bengals executive vice president: "Geno has been a wonderful player for us, and we are excited to be able to reward his high level of play and to secure his future here in Cincinnati. Geno is a special asset -- a great person as well as an exceptional player -- and we want to continue investing in players that play at a high level and help us win.”

Head coach Marvin Lewis: “Geno’s extension is exciting news. It puts the issue of his future behind him and the club and allows his focus to be on football and on a great start to our season.”

Bengals inactives

January, 5, 2013
1/05/13
3:11
PM ET
HOUSTON -- Here are the Cincinnati Bengals players you won't see in Sunday's wild-card game against the Houston Texans.

Bengals
Rex Ryan is the NFL coaching equivalent of Chad Johnson.

There is a side of the New York Jets' head coach that is fun-loving and harmless. Talk to Ryan for five minutes and you will like him. Watch any news conference, and it's clear Ryan has the charisma and sense of humor to light up a room. The same can be said for Johnson.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesNext season will be crucial for Jets coach Rex Ryan, who is 14-18 the past two seasons.
Yet, there is that other side of Ryan that can be too much to take. Ryan, like Johnson, is blunt with no buffer. Ryan, like Johnson, also can display poor taste and do zany things. If Johnson abruptly changes his last name to Ochocinco, Ryan can match that with a head-scratching Mark Sanchez jersey tattoo on his arm. The two are more alike than you think.

Johnson eventually wore out his welcome in the NFL. His antics no longer matched his production, which led to his being shipped from the Cincinnati Bengals to the New England Patriots to the Miami Dolphins and out of the NFL in one year's time.

Is Ryan is heading down that same path with the Jets? Ryan's antics have been a constant. But after back-to-back non-winning seasons, are the headaches Ryan brings trumping his production?

The Sanchez tattoo, which caused national headlines Friday, is just the latest controversy to ruffle the Jets' feathers. Ryan's embarrassing transgressions have ranged from flipping the bird at a mixed martial arts event, rumors of a Ryan video focused on feet, bad-mouthing other head coaches and empty Super Bowl guarantees. There were several smaller brush fires Ryan also created or has been a part of in his four seasons with the Jets that are not worth listing here.

The point is that we keep waiting for Ryan's antics to stop, but they never do. Ryan, 50, is who he is. Ryan is at the "take-it-or-leave-it" stage in his life, and it's up to the Jets to determine how much more of the circus they can take.

That brings me back to Chad Johnson, who was a very good receiver in his prime. The Bengals put up with all of Johnson's antics as long as he could catch touchdowns. But once age caught up to Johnson and he was no longer a top receiver, all of a sudden his antics were too detrimental to the team.

Incidents of "Rex being Rex" will fly in New York for only so long. Ryan is still living off the glory of back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010. But that is starting to feel like a long time ago. The Jets are currently viewed as a national punch line, a circus atmosphere where anything can happen at any time. In that respect, Ryan has been a contributing part of the problem and not the solution.

I have been a longtime supporter of Ryan because his X's and O's are solid, and players enjoy playing for him. Those are two key ingredients to being a good head coach. However, that support is waning with each incident. It's difficult to preach discipline to your players when the head coach is the one dominating the back pages in New York with distractions.

It's time to officially put Ryan on the hot seat for 2013. Next season will be huge for Ryan's future with the Jets.

Ryan is a mediocre 14-18 the past two seasons. He is poised on the threshold of being more of a detriment than an asset.
HOUSTON -- The AFC East blog is in Texas doing some advance scouting from the Texans-Bengals game. But here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC East: Morning take: Smith seems to have the strongest chance of the three. Kelly is on his way to Cleveland, and Maronne won't make much of a splash. Smith has a pedigree with the Chicago Bears that could generate excitement and interest.
Morning take: I’m laying off predictions now that the regular season is over. But I'm very curious to cover this game. The Texans are cold and the Bengals are hot. Yet, it's a clean slate in the playoffs.
Morning take: This is a very tough job for whoever takes over. For starters, the roster is old and over the cap. Second, the new general manager must co-exist with head coach Rex Ryan’s big personality.
Morning take: Miami general manager Jeff Ireland deserves kudos for hitting on rookies like quarterback Ryan Tannehill, offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, defensive end Olivier Vernon and tailback Lamar Miller. It was a strong class that should get better in Year 2.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider