July 24, 2014

Reasons For Optimism: Episode II

Saturday is the big day, and if you are like me, you’re almost literally counting the hours until game time.  This is the fourth playoff appearance for the Bengals of the Marvin Lewis regime, so luckily for us it’s become almost commonplace to be in the playoffs and the awful stench of the lost decade seems firmly in the rearview.

That said, the Bengals are 0-for-3 so far in the post-season dance under Coach Lew, and frankly all 3 losses have been of the particularly ugly and heart-wrenching variety.  Something I have no desire to relive.

So as the hour draws closer, it’s a good idea to look for the positives and identify those good omens floating in the tea leaves.  We can use all the karma we can get, and since I wrote a “Reasons for Optimism” article before the Bengals took down the Steelers in Pittsburgh, let’s do it again and keep the good vibes going.

Here are the reasons to know—not think, not believe—to know, the Bengals will win Saturday:

  • The Bengals have momentum:  I know Marvin Lewis has been keen to point out all week how this is the playoffs and everyone is now 0-0.  That’s fine, but I don’t buy it.  It’s misdirection again from behind the striped curtain to me. I think momentum from the regular season (positive or negative) affects the post-season.  After all, it’s a well-worn adage that you want to “peak at the right time” and never to “back in” to the playoffs.  If history is any judge, Marvin is wrong here.  The last three playoff squads were the epitome of “backing in” and they played like it.  Besides, wouldn’t you rather enter the playoffs on a 3 game winning streak than a losing streak?  Exactly.
  • The Texans have anti-momentum:  Again, Lewis’s protests aside, the fact is the Texans are backing in like a dump truck.  They’ve lost 2 games in a row, and both when they had something to play for in home field advantage.  They basically played themselves into this game, when they could’ve had the weekend off, and made sure the road to New Orleans went through Reliant Stadium.  While Cincinnati comes in the winner of 7 of their last 8, Houston is 1-3 over the last four games. 
  • Cincinnati is healthy:  The Bengals limped into the playoffs last year with several key players down or limping badly.  The run defense sorely missed DT Pat Sims in last year’s match-up, the pass defense was missing CB Leon Hall, and Rey Maualuga and Chris Crocker were gimpy.  This year the defense will have all 4 players ready to go, along with a new guy named Vontaze Burfict. You may have heard of him.
  • The Bengals kicking game:  While the Texans seem to have a slight advantage on offense, and the Bengals have a slight advantage on defense, it’s the kicking game where Cincinnati has a pronounced edge.  The coverage teams have been lights out all season, Kevin Huber is having a franchise year as a punter and the Bengals have been dominating field position as a result.  Plus, Josh Brown has been money in the bank in crucial moments since taking over for Mike Nugent.  This is of course opposed to….
  • Shayne Graham:  Moonlight is Houston’s place kicker this year, and is 31 of 38 on FG tries for the season.  That’s 81.5%.  Not great; not bad either.  However, I have to believe that if the Texans need a big 43-yarder, like Brown hit for us in Pittsburgh, Graham will do his customary choke-job.  You know, like he did in 2006 to keep the Bengals out of the playoffs, or in 2009 in the wild card loss to the Jets (TWICE!).  For once, it’ll be nice to see the shank coming and be happy about it.
  • Matt Schaub:  The Texans have playoff experience from last year’s run, but their franchise QB does not.  Schaub was out for the season last year at this time, so he’ll be making his first foray into the postseason on Saturday.  Quarterbacks tend to get jittery in their first playoff games—just like Andy Dalton last year.  Plus, like the Texans in general, Schaub has been in a major slump as the season has drawn to a close.  With a heavy dose of Cincinnati’s famous pass rush, Schaub may make a few playoff rookie mistakes to give up the game.
  • Bengals are Dogs:  It’s a proven scientific fact that the Bengals simply play better as underdogs.  It’s been that way for eons.  With the Texans as a 4.5 point favorite, this plays right into our paws.
  • Bengals play better on the road:  Another weird but totally true factoid.  Cincy was an embarrassing 4-4 in the Jungle, and that was helped along by Baltimore’s scrubs last week.  Meanwhile, the Bengals were 6-2 on the road, including road wins at tough places like Pittsburgh and Washington along with a win on the west coast in San Diego.  This young Bengal squad seems to be comfortably playing in hostile environments, which as a wild card entry, is a good thing.
  • Revenge:  Of course like the whole “momentum” thing, Lewis has been downplaying the motivational gold of wanting revenge on the Texans in front of the media, but I am sure he’s been pointing it out—repeatedly—to the team.  While he claims there’s no more blood in that turnip, I tend to think the guys have seen plenty of tape on that game this week.  Many of the faces in the Bengals locker room are new—but most were in that same locker room last year and it should add a level of extra intensity to their preparations and game play.  Conversely, while Texans fans may speak confindently about how they took down these same Bengals last year, secretly they’re nervous about the revenge thing.
  • They’re just due:  Bad luck eventually runs out, and this team has proven over and over again that they are good at breaking bad habits.  Remember how the Bengals couldn’t win on the west coast?  A win at Seattle last year made the win this year in San Diego a ho-hummer.  Remember how they couldn’t beat teams with a winning record?  How about their infamous o-fer against Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  Then there was the whole thing about never making the playoffs in back-to-back *non-strike seasons.  All of these seemed like a big deal until this team scratched them each off the list.  Now comes the fact that the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the George Herbert Walker Bush administration, and their 0-for-ever record in road playoff games.  Streaks are made to be broken, and as impressively terrible as they are, these too must fall.  Why not Saturday?

So there you have it, Bengals fans.  Who needs statistics, film study, and game-plans when you have karma on your side?

Light a candle, pray the rosary, wear mismatched socks and do the reverse hokey-pokey.  It’s all good.

Who Dey!