AFC North: Tennesee Titans
"It's all about winning in December," Crocker said. "Let's win out and see where the chips lay. Why can't we win out? I don't see why we can't."
If you ask some Bengals fans and most NFL analysts, they'll give you one big reason why they don't believe Cincinnati will be able to go 5-0 to close out the regular season: No. 14.
That's right. To some, the primary obstacle in the way of end-of-season perfection for the Bengals is Andy Dalton, the player who has quarterbacked the franchise into the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and who constantly is trying to prove himself to those who consider him just another member of a mostly failed 2011 quarterback draft class.
For that reason, as the Bengals gear up for a stretch run that could give them a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs, an important question has to be asked.
Can December Andy mimic October Andy?
As we've written countless times in the past month, October Andy was indeed a dandy. Through the first four games of that month, Dalton threw for 1,243 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also completed 67.9 percent of his passes, won four games, had a passer rating higher than 116.0 and a QBR above 83.0. He was, quite simply, brilliant. His play was so sharp back then that on the final day of the month, hours before the Bengals were set to take on the Dolphins in a road Thursday night game, he was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month.
And, yes, even though, comparatively speaking, he didn't look as good overall against the Dolphins and ended up taking the game-winning sack for a safety in overtime, Dalton still had a rather special performance in the 22-20 loss. Aside from not completing a touchdown pass and getting intercepted three times, he threw for 338 yards, marking the fourth straight game he had gone over the 300-yard passing mark.
Overall, October Andy was Good Andy.
But now here comes December with all of its postseason potency. If Cincinnati hopes to set itself up for the type of playoff seeding Crocker believes it deserves, then it will have to play its best ball across the next five weeks. That's especially the case for Dalton and a Bengals offense that has looked rather anemic in the past three games.
One look at Dalton's previous December stats and it doesn't appear the third-year star should have any problem showcasing even a sliver of the success that made him and his team so good about two months ago.
After a rocky December as a rookie in 2011, Dalton was among the difference-makers last season when the desperate Bengals were in need of a strong final month just to secure a playoff berth. One year after going 2-2 in the month, Dalton went 4-1 during December 2012. The lone loss came after the Dallas Cowboys made a field goal in the final seconds to win 20-19.
While the level of desperation may be different this December, the Bengals are looking for Dalton to thrive under similar pressure-packed moments during this one. This time around, the pressure on Dalton mainly stems from the fact that so many are fed up with his play from the past three games. In them, he's thrown eight interceptions and been sacked 10 times. Across the latter two of those games, he's completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and hasn't posted a QBR higher than 18.0.
Weather factored heavily in Dalton's inability to move the ball in those two games. Windy conditions at Baltimore and windy and rainy conditions against the Browns sent some of his passes sailing and forced others into the hands of defensive backs.
Although weather shouldn't be a concern this weekend in San Diego (the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a delightful high of 71 degrees Sunday), it could be the rest of the season. Farmer's Almanac projects cold, damp conditions for all of December in the Ohio Valley. It should be noted that after Sunday's game, the Bengals are home three of the next four weeks. Their only remaining road game is at Pittsburgh.
Throughout his career, Dalton has performed better in warmer games. In games with temperatures 50 degrees or higher, he has a 20-14 record, an 85.1 passer rating and a 52.5 QBR. In games with temperatures at 49 and lower, he has a 5-5 record, a 75.4 passer rating and a 32.9 QBR. Dalton's last three sub-49-degree wins came last December, though; a sign that perhaps he's turning a corner in cold-weather contests.
Whatever the conditions and whomever their opponents are, when it comes to the next five weeks, the Bengals can only hope that Dalton turns into the same man who torched through this October.
Could Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans be next?
Tennessee's starting quarterback got into a fight at a Dallas-area strip club over the weekend. The incident was videotaped and certainly will be reviewed closely by the league office over the next few weeks.
As Roethlisberger can attest, the NFL has been very strict on its athletes for off-the-field misconduct. It's early. But if commissioner Roger Goodell decides to give Young a two-game suspension, for example, a Week 2 matchup between Tennessee and Pittsburgh could be an interesting battle between teams trying to stay afloat without its star quarterbacks.
This much we know: Roethlisberger is guaranteed to miss the Week 2 matchup with Tennessee while serving his conditional six-game suspension. But after this weekend's incident, it will be interesting to see if Young is available for that game, as well.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
CLEVELAND -- Despite a stellar performance by Brady Quinn in Saturday night's 23-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Browns coach Eric Mangini says he's still not ready to name his starting quarterback for the 2009 season.
On the field, it appears Quinn all but locked up the position based on his performance. He completed 11 of 15 passes for 128 yards, one touchdown and notched an 121.0 passer rating against a solid defense in Tennessee.
But Mangini continues to play this quarterback derby as close to the vest as possible, even down the final days of the preseason.
"I'm going to look at it and evaluate it," Mangini said bluntly Saturday night. "When the decision is made, I will definitely let everybody know. I don't have a timetable on it."
Anderson didn't play poorly. But he didn't do enough against Tennessee to stay even in the competition. Anderson completed 7 of 11 passes for 77 yards. But he also took a sack that stalled one drive and nearly threw an interception that was dropped by a Tennessee defender and bounced into the hands of Browns receiver Mike Furrey.
Both quarterbacks were nervous after the game to say too much about the ongoing competition.
"I expect to practice on Monday and that's about it," Quinn said. "Derek and I are both two mentally tough guys, and that's why we're here on this team as quarterbacks. If our coaches wanted us to go forever, I'm sure we can go forever."