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Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Morning Stripes: Bengals back in division

By Coley Harvey

The Cincinnati Bengals see a real opportunity looming before them the next two weeks. With a pair of AFC North games on the horizon, including Sunday's contest at Baltimore, they are in the very real position of being able to establish some separation in the division race.

Wins the next two weeks could give the Bengals enough of a cushion that thoughts of a division title might begin playing out inside their heads. Although they don't really want to have any of those thoughts until after the final whistle of Week 17 blows late next month, they certainly wouldn't be faulted if they allowed such thoughts to manifest in their minds, even if ever so briefly.

The bottom line is this: These next two weeks are crucial to dictating how the remainder of the season will go. Just like how the last four -- five if you want to include this week -- were important because of how often the Bengals were on the road, these next couple are important because of their division significance.

When the Bengals began this four-road-trip in five-week tour that ends this weekend, they had hoped to go a clean 5-0, winning all those games away from home. Some fans and most media thought they'd be lucky to win at least four of those games; the home contest being among them. Currently at 3-1 during this stretch, the likely 4-1 finish that most expected is still a very real possibility. Those wins do, in fact, include the 40-point blowout of the New York Jets at home two weeks ago.

As the Bengals step back into AFC North action with this road game at Baltimore and next week's rematch against the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium, the need to win increases dramatically. By beating Pittsburgh at home in Week 2 and losing at Cleveland in Week 4, the Bengals are currently 1-1 in division play this season. As well as they have played non-AFC North teams, they can ill-afford to lose to their familiar foes these next two weeks.

In this Tuesday's Morning Stripes, we begin with a look at how seriously the Bengals are taking the next two games which precede their bye week: