Good Friday morning, everyone. We're just two more days away from one of the biggest games of the Cincinnati Bengals' season so far.
Debatable point? Certainly. A few of us on the Bengals beat were actually discussing that very fact inside the locker room Thursday as we tried to determine what the difference between going 5-2 or 4-3 would be. The consensus? 5-2 sounds dramatically better than 4-3. Heck, even if the Bengals were to lose Sunday's game at Detroit and then win next Sunday's game over the Jets to improve to 5-3, we came to the conclusion that the 5-3 mark they would get to in that scenario doesn't sound as impressive as it would if they got to 5-2 this week and fell to 5-3 with a loss to the Jets next week.
Confused? Don't worry, playing what I like to call the "if ... then" game is confusing. But hey, this is good practice for all of our brains. We'll be getting back to playing hypotheticals and posting various record scenarios and the like in the next few weeks as the playoff picture begins to really take shape. If you're confused now, then hopefully you'll be able to keep up then.
Still, the base conclusion our cohort came up with is this: Sunday's game against the Lions is very important. A win, and the Bengals ought to finally prove to those last lingering doubters that they are indeed for real and can be a difficult team to reckon with this season. By beating a team of the Lions' stature (another 4-2 team that appears playoff-bound) on the road, Cincinnati would establish itself among the teams that we can safely say have arrived this season. Coupled with wins over New England and Green Bay, this would be one of those victories that served notice to the rest of the league.
With a loss, the Bengals would still have plenty of time to convince the NFL that they are a team to be reckoned with, but that same doubt and uncertainty that has hung above them much of the early season would continue for another week. Maybe even two weeks after that.
So, for perception's sake, Sunday's game is crucial to defining this team to the rest of the league.
One Bengal whose perception has met reality in three short years is receiver A.J. Green. On the ESPN NFL Nation Bengals blog, this is hereby dubbed the unofficial "A.J. Green Day." The reason is we're kicking off Morning Stripes with a story about slowing Green, and then later on we'll have two more posts about him. So, strap in for a Green-filled Day:
A.J. Green Day begins with a link from ESPN.com Lions reporter Michael Rothstein, who talked with a few Lions players earlier this week abut slowing down Green. It's pretty clear the Lions know how good Green is and the threat that he can be, but the Bengals also are now confident that if they can't get much out of him Sunday, they'll be going to other receivers to get the offense going. Having so many playmakers makes devising game plans for Green that much more difficult.
Our next link comes from the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr., who writes about a playmaker of a different sort for the Bengals. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has had 40 million reasons to not show up and play well this season. Yet, there he has been, one of the more steady and consistent contributors on the defensive side of the ball. So far, Dunlap is proving that the Bengals were right to give him a restructured deal in the offseason. Being surrounded by players who got bigger paydays but who are still playing hard has to help maintain his focus.
Next we turn to Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson, who writes that the Bengals and Lions are mirror images of one another. It's a reason why Sunday's game ought to be a good one. They have the same record; their coaches know one another well; they both have strong defensive lines; they have smaller, shifty, speedy running backs in Reggie Bush and Giovani Bernard; they have elite receivers in Green and Calvin Johnson; and they have two of the best pass-protecting offensive lines in the NFL. So what will give Sunday?
Finally, on the Dayton Daily News' site, there's a short story about where the Bengals rank in league popularity. According to a recent Harris Poll survey, they are the 24th most popular team. It's not very high, but it's not the late-20s or the 30s where they have been other years.
Enjoy your Friday, folks.