Matchup Problem: Steven Jackson, RB
This one hurts because Jackson could have spent his entire productive career as a Bengal. Cincinnati had a chance to draft Jackson, but instead traded down and took Chris Perry, who had one successful season before his career ended early due to injury. Try not to think about what Jackson could have done behind a solid offensive line and with Carson Palmer and Ochocinco in their primes. (if you’re like me, the thought alone will make you sick). Instead, worry about what he could do to a Bengals defense that has been less successful stopping the run in the second half of the season. Fortunately, it looks like Cincinnati will be facing Kellen Clemens at quarterback, so they can load up to stop the run without worrying about being shredded through the air.
Player to Watch: Carlos Dunlap, DE
Dunlap returns for the Bengals and he claims he’s as healthy as he’s been in weeks. That’s great news for the Bengals because in my mind, his absence was a critical factor in the Bengals’ recent struggles. You think T.J. Yates marches down the field last week in obvious passing situations if Dunlap is on the field? I don’t. You think Cincinnati’s pass rush and run defense is as punchless if Dunlap is on the field? I don’t. Thus, if Dunlap is healthy, I think there’s a very realistic chance that the Bengals’ defense could regain some swagger down the stretch, playing more like that dominant unit that showed up earlier this season. And good luck to the Rams’ injury-ravaged offensive line, who will not only have to block Dunlap, but will have to do it on Astroturf, where he’s just a little bit faster. This should be fun.
How the Bengals can win: Stop Steven Jackson and exploit the Rams’ paper-thin secondary. I’ve heard St. Louis has lost its top five cornerbacks due to injuries, which should be enough for A.J. Green and Jerome “Sticky Icky” Simpson to salivate. The Bengals’ passing game has been looking for a chance to break out since its solid second half against Baltimore and this could be it. I’m expecting a big game from Andy Dalton and his receiving corps since the game will be indoors on Astroturf. I believe it will be the first time this season that Cincinnati has had a dome game. And that should be exciting for a rather speedy group of Bengals receivers.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, St. Louis 20
The Bengals win the game and revive their playoff hopes for another week. Now, let’s hope Philly can upset the Jets.