ESPN's Mike Golic made an apt analogy yesterday when sizing up the contenders in the NFL at the midway point. He reckoned the situation to a golf tournament. The halfway point of the season can be compared to having completed the first two rounds of a tournament. Golfers refer to that critical third round as "moving day" as those in contention further separate those who will battle for the title from those who will not. So it is for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals stand tied for first, not just in the AFC North, but in the AFC with the Baltimore Ravens. They are the young golfer who has played an incredible first two rounds and finds his name at the top of the leaderboard heading into the weekend. The next month of games for the Bengals will dictate whether they are still in contention in the season's final four weeks.
The next four games will find Cincinnati entirely within their own division. They have bookend appointments with the Pittsburgh Steelers surrounding a visit to Baltimore and a home game against the Cleveland Browns. At a minimum, the Bengals must split those four games to remain viable for a final set of games with playoff implications.
Staying with the golf analogy, the "front nine" (or four in this case) demands that the Bengals avoid disaster and hold their own. The "back four" (Houston, St. Louis, Arizona, and Baltimore) gives greater opportunity to move forward.
It really comes down to this: The Bengals have three games of the eight left in which they are sure to be favored (Cleveland, Arizona, and St. Louis). If Cincinnati can win all three of those and just get one of the other five (three of which are home games) they'll finish with a 10-6 record and be in position for a playoff spot. A split in November would ostensibly involve winning one of those games. If they can surpass that, then we're looking at a division title and possible home games in the playoffs. Not bad for a team some thought would go winless this year.
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