Morning Stripes: Bengals in late December

The Cincinnati Bengals began the month by saying they wanted to finish the season by going 5-0.

They are now 2-1 this December and in a more urgent mode now, thanks to last Sunday's loss at Pittsburgh. Had they been able to sneak past the Steelers, the odds they could have reached their December goal would have skyrocketed. Confidence and momentum are important in this game, and they certainly would have had both after coming off two tough road wins (including their Dec. 1 win at San Diego) and another over division-leading Indianapolis.

The Bengals would have two more games at home: this weekend's contest against Minnesota and next weekend's against Baltimore. Inside Paul Brown Stadium, they have looked unbelievably good all season. They have looked so good at home that they actually still have an opportunity to pull off an undefeated season inside their home stadium.

They can do it, too. Minnesota hasn't been very good this season, even though it has finally rediscovered a sense of rhythm on offense that it didn't have much of the year. The Ravens, while tough to beat, have shown enough weaknesses throughout the season that the Bengals feel confident they could exploit them in the season finale.

Based on the way the playoff chase has gone this season, the Bengals have to exploit everything they can against the Ravens or all of a sudden, they could be left out of the playoffs. If they do handle their jobs and get some help from the Ravens and other teams across these two weeks, though, the Bengals could end up slipping into the postseason with the No. 2 seed that was within their clutches entering last Sunday's game.

The thing about all of these scenarios is that they take place during a month and in a stadium that haven't been very kind to the Bengals in the Marvin Lewis era. As we kick off these Thursday Morning Stripes, you'll see why:

  • The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. took a look at the five most pivotal December games -- and one New Year's Day contest because of the way the schedule fell that year -- the Bengals have been a part of the past 11 seasons. Only one was a win.

  • The playoffs are all anyone in Cincinnati wants to talk about these days, and for newcomers to the NFL, all of the chatter can be overwhelming and confusing. Here's a look at the nutty playoff picture from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson, who tried to explain all the scenarios to a rookie.

  • If you want a more simplified look at the playoff picture and what's at stake for Cincinnati, you can take a look at this from the Dayton Daily News' Jay Morrison, and you can check out ESPN.com's Playoff Machine.

  • As we finally close the book on the fallout from Terence Garvin's season-ending blindside hit on Kevin Huber, we take a look at a letter a 7-year-old Bengals fan wrote Huber. The young fan's father tweeted a picture of the letter Tuesday, and as of Wednesday, Huber said he hadn't received it but wanted to see it. ABC-affiliated Cincinnati TV station WCPO has the story.

  • Finally, we turn to Bloomberg, which has this lengthy story about Hamilton County's financial woes pertaining to the funding of Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium. According to Bloomberg, the county has projects involving the stadiums this year, including debt services, that total more than $43 million.