Cincinnati Bengals: Would playoff appearance be enough?

Call it pessimism, football envy, or just being a Cincinnati Bengal’s fan but with less than a week away from a fifth Bengals’ playoff appearance in the past decade, there is a familiar feeling of despair.

It’s hard for many to explain, and near impossible for any football fan to empathize with – but 45 years of no Super Bowl wins and only two appearances isn’t a boastful claim in the lunchroom on Mondays.

Yet, standing on the doorstep of the playoffs for a third-consecutive season, the 2013 Bengals are quietly giving fans reason to believe this year might be the first to see their team advance past the first round since 1990 when Cincinnati beat the Houston Oilers 41-14.

The Bengals will need Andy Dalton to be on the same page with A.J. Green in order to make a deep run in the 2013 playoffs

The Bengals will need Andy Dalton to be on the same page with A.J. Green in order to make a deep run in the 2013 playoffs

Last season, the Bengals were outplayed for the second straight time in Houston as the Texans’ defense abused Dalton and the offense in a 19-13 Houston win.This year, it is the San Diego Chargers behind the arm of quarterback Philip Rivers who will try to give the Bengals an early first round exit in Cincinnati next Sunday.

While the Bengals abused the Chargers 17-10 in Week 13 at San Diego, the Chargers have enjoyed the stars aligning to get them to the playoffs after a four-game winning streak to finish out the regular season.

On paper, it looks like an easy win for Cincinnati for the first time in more than 20 years. After a two touchdown, four interception performance by Andy Dalton at home against Baltimore on Sunday during a game that had a playoff atmosphere, a Bengals’ victory is all but certain.

Last Sunday was bittersweet for Dalton who broke two franchise records – single season touchdowns (33), and single season passing yards (4,296) – as he looked wildly in accurate at times with his four intercepted passes that were littered amongst his prestigious accolades.

The game was the epitome of the type of season Dalton has had with flashes of greatness that are grounded by foolish decisions. What the Bengals cannot afford this coming week at home is for Dalton to try to push too hard and make mistakes. With playmaking receivers like A.J. Green and Marvin Jones who have double digit touchdown receptions, Dalton will have to settle in and not try to force throws.

On the other side of the football is a Bengals’ defense that ranks third overall, going up against a Chargers’ offense that ranks fourth in passing. What Bengals’ defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has done with this defense is nothing short of spectacular. Having lost veteran cornerback Leon Hall and defensive tackle Geno Atkins to season-ending injuries, along with other injuries, the defense didn’t miss a beat.

Cincinnati was fortunate on Dec. 1 that Chargers’ TE Antonio Gates was allergic to the football and gave it up twice – a strip by Dre Kirkpatrick was ruled an interception, but it should have been ruled a forced fumble – something that veteran doesn’t do often.

With Philip Rivers always deadly, the Bengals will have to rely on defense and a poor Chargers’ secondary to bring Cincinnati its first playoff victory since the ’95 Reds.

With the parity of today’s NFL, nothing is certain week to week. That’s why, even though the chances for a Bengals’ win Sunday are good, I’ll be stocking up on Pepcid AC during the week in preparation for anything.

The question remains, if the Bengals were to have an upset at home, is making the playoffs enough, or is a trip to the AFC championship enough?

We’ll probably do a poll on this in the next few days to find out where fans feel this team needs to be and guesses are that most won’t be satisfied unless the Bengals leave the 2013 season with at least a ticket to the AFC Championship game.