Bye week comes at good time for Bengals

Some flew back to their hometowns, seeking rest and refuge with familiar faces.

Some sought peace on golf courses, or retreated to similar locales that didn't have the types of bone-chilling temperatures that ended up descending this weekend upon the city that, because of work, they currently call home. A smaller group of them, headed by those in need of extra rehabilitation from nagging injuries and aches and pains, ended up staying around the Queen City in an effort of returning to a full workload by the close of this week.

When the Cincinnati Bengals return to Paul Brown Stadium on Monday from wherever they spent the last four days, they each hope to be well-rested and recharged ahead of their final five-game push of the regular season.

As they prepare for next Sunday's game at San Diego, the timing of the Bengals' bye week couldn't have been better. They are one of four teams that were off this week. It's the last time this season that any team will have a bye. For the Bengals, a team that's looking to get more momentum generated and a few key players back to a semblance of health, this was the perfect time for the off week to come.

The only reason why it wouldn't have been a good time for the bye would have been if the Bengals had rolled into Week 12 scorching through a long winning streak. Had that been the case, the down time could have served as a bit of a rhythm killer, particularly with an upcoming game that will be throwing their schedule slightly askew anyway. When Cincinnati travels to the West Coast next week, it will be leaving a day earlier than normal. In order to account for the lengthy travel and to get as acclimated as possible to the time change, it will be departing following Friday's walkthrough. For road trips closer to home, the Bengals typically leave Saturday afternoon for whichever city they are visiting.

Thanks to last week's 41-20 win against the Browns, the Bengals are at least trending in the right direction. Just before the blowout, they had lost two straight in overtime, both on the road. Had a third consecutive loss come -- and against a division rival, to boot -- this bye week would have given the Bengals an added measure of pressure and desperation that could make it tough for them to enjoy time away from the daily in-season grind. Now, however, with a 2.5-game lead over the rest of the AFC North entering this weekend's play, they can comfortably watch the weekend's action knowing that at worst, their lead will only drop to two games.

Since fellow division foes Cleveland and Pittsburgh are playing Sunday, that lead will in fact diminish by a half game. Whichever team wins will be alone in second place if the Baltimore Ravens also lose their game against the Jets. If the Ravens win, that two-game lead will be shared by them and the Browns/Steelers winner.

Final-stretch momentum will be important for the Bengals, who are looking for their second straight double-digit wins season and a chance at a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. As the No. 4 seed entering play Sunday, they wouldn't have that bye. A win in two weeks over the team that entered this week as the No. 2 seed, though, could certainly flip that.

Cincinnati hosts the Indianapolis Colts the week after traveling to San Diego.

While true momentum would equate to a five-game run of wins into the playoffs, the Bengals probably would be content to take three of the next five games. In addition to the unique challenge of traveling out west for their longest road trip of the season, the Bengals also host the AFC South division-leading Colts, and have two more AFC North games remaining. They lost to one of the division teams earlier this season, and the other appears to finally have figured things out and looks much different than it did during its first meeting with the Bengals back in September.

Also in the five-game mix are the last-place Minnesota Vikings, the final NFC North team Cincinnati sees this season.

This week coming up will set the tone for the rest of the year for the Bengals. With linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive tackle Devon Still expected to return from injuries, the Bengals will suddenly infuse even more depth into a rested team. With quarterback Andy Dalton hoping to put his last three outings firmly in his rearview mirror, this week boasts an opportunity for him to officially turn the page and get back to the elite play that made him the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month of October.

Cincinnati's hope all year has been to end this season with a set of ever elusive and rare postseason victories. If that's going to happen, the Bengals going to have to take full advantage this week of their now concluded, perfectly-timed bye week.