If we are to believe Marvin Lewis that his team approached last Sunday night’s game against the Jets as any other game and that they were trying to win, then logic says this should be as lopsided as an NFL playoff game can be.
The Bengals rolled over and died a slow death at Giants Stadium last Sunday night losing 37-0 to the Jets, who were playing for their playoff lives to force this rematch Saturday at 4:30. This time the game is in Cincinnati and this time people will actually believe Lewis when he says his team is playing to win.
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Despite the 37-point debacle just six days earlier the Bengals are 2.5-point favorites in the Wild Card matchup between two AFC teams who are basically afterthoughts in the hunt for the Super Bowl. The Jets won two consecutive games against the Colts and Bengals, who, to say the least, did not enter the game with winning intentions. The Bengals swept their division rivals, the Steelers and Ravens, but it’s apparent they are not getting the respect that usually comes with an AFC North title.
The Bengals are 35/1 to win the Super Bowl on Bodog, worse odds than the 27/1 Ravens, who they were 2-0 against this year. The Jets have the worst odds in the playoffs at 45/1 to win it all. Each team’s odds of just winning the AFC are longshots with the Bengals at 16/1 and the Jets at 18/1. But, regardless of the bleak future outcome for the winner, the game will go on and one team will win and move on.
The Jets have clearly found their way to the playoffs by accident. However, if not for them then the Bengals would be considered the team lucky to be in the postseason. Since an 18-12 win at Pittsburgh in mid-November the Bengals have not put together four quality quarters of football. They lost at Oakland 20-17, eked out wins against the Browns, Lions and Chiefs, failing to cover in all three games and then lost by 20 at Minnesota and lost at San Diego to go along with laying that fat egg in New York to close out a regular season.
There are so many negatives to focus on in this game but the reason each team is here is because of their defense. The lack of drama of the Jets and Bengals will not entice many people to commit three hours to their living rooms or favorite sports bar to watch this game and neither will the on-the-field play unless you love running the ball and good defense. Neither team can pass the ball for a lick. The Bengals, at 180 yards passing per game, are slightly better than the Jets, who are second to last in the NFL with 149 yards passing per game behind rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez.
On the ground it is a different story. The Jets are the NFL’s top rushing team, averaging more yards per game on the ground (172) than through the air. They also have the top ranked defense in the NFL, both in yards allowed per game and points allowed. In years past a rushing attack and a defense like the Jets would have them on the fast track to the Super Bowl. That was a winning formula for teams like the Ravens and Steelers on their way to Super Bowls but the NFL has changed in recent years.
The Bengals know that the NFL postseason is a different animal now too. No longer can they rely on their ninth-ranked rushing offense and their fourth-ranked defense. An underwhelming year by Carson Palmer has overshadowed a Cincinnati defense that has only given up 18 points per game.
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Whichever team advances to the AFC divisional round will find life extremely tough the rest of the way. But for one day at least one team will prevail. The total is set at 34 and you can expect the big plays to be few and far between. One big play should be enough to win this game. The Bengals do not have much going for them but they do have home-field advantage and that could be the difference in an evenly matched game like this.