Nobody thought the Cincinnati Bengals would be sitting in this position at 4-2, yet here they are just a half game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers. This year's Bengals team has surprised many to this point and dished out some healthy helpings of crow to their doubters along the way. The question is can they keep it up?
This week's matchup at the Seattle Seahawks will go a long way toward determining whether or not this group of Bengals truly represents a change in the franchise's fortune or whether the past six weeks have merely been an anomaly. Here are three questions that will test the resolve of this young team this weekend.
1. Can they win again on the road? Of the Bengals four wins, half of them have come on the road, against Cleveland and at Jacksonville. Nothing challenges a young team like having to execute in a hostile environment. One could argue that the crowds in Cleveland and Jacksonville were less than rabid. One could also point out that Cincinnati needed late game rallies in both of those games to secure victories, much like their loss in Denver in which the rally fell short. But for a sleepy Cleveland cornerback and a huge gust of wind in Jacksonville, the Bengals could be 0-3 on the road and looking at a 2-4 record this week. The Bengals need a strong statement in Seattle before getting really tested in Tennessee and Baltimore in the next month.
2. Can they withstand Cedric Benson's suspension? Cincinnati is no stranger to off-the-field distractions. This week they'll head into Seattle without their leading rusher. In the past, these events have been cause for distraction and a drop in on-field performance. To a man, the Bengals are touting their revitalization in the locker room and a renewed emphasis on the team over the individual. A strong performance without Cedric Benson would go a long way toward solidifying that.
3. Can they come back hungry after the bye week? The Bengals entered the bye on a three game winning streak. Since back to back tough losses at Denver and at home against the 49ers, Cincinnati has shown a resolve rarely seen around these parts. They've faced adversity and deficits and come back to win against Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Indianapolis. And while the confidence they've gained is good, their youth could very easily let that ferment into complacency.
The Bengals have spent two weeks now basking in the afterglow of their surprising start. If they go into Seattle thinking that being a favorite is enough to get the win, they'll be in for a major disappointment. And so would Bengals fans who are starting once again to believe in their team.
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