ESPN is predicting an 8–8 record for the Cincinnati Bengals. That puts them within one win (based on ESPN’s predictions), either way, of five other AFC teams (Ravens, Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Colts). Meaning, those are the five teams the Bengals could possibly be competing with for a wildcard berth. If the Bengals want to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2015, who they beat is almost as important as winning in the first place. And we know juuuuust who they can beat.
Here are my five picks for the most crucial games of the Cincinnati Bengals season. Win the majority of these, and a postseason ticket looks very punchable.
It’d be Awesome if the Cincinnati Bengals Won These 5 Games
5. Sunday, December 30 at Pittsburgh Steelers
You may be surprised that this game is this low on the list. That’s mainly because it’s the last game of the season, and the Bengals’ role in the playoff picture could very well be decided by now. If the race is close, though, then the team’s postseason fate comes down to beating their most hated rival on their home turf. How’s THAT for motivation?
4. Thursday, September 13 versus Baltimore Ravens
Wins within your division are doubly important, for obvious reasons. Beat a divisional rival and you are a game ahead of them. The Bengals can make a statement early in the year by knocking off the Ravens. It’ll send a message to the rest of the AFC North. It also gives Cincinnati a little padding if they drop the second meeting in Baltimore 8 weeks later.
3. Sunday, September 9 at Indianapolis Colts
Indy QB Andrew Luck has said in interviews that he feels good. But it wouldn’t hurt him to spike his sideline Gatorade with white vinegar to help get some of that rust off.
He missed the entire 2017 season with a bad shoulder. That makes you wonder how slick the Colts’ offense will be. Hopefully, it’s as effective as that get-under-your-school-desk-to-be-safe-from-the-A-bomb drill your grandparents practiced. Winning here puts a wild card competitor in a hole with 3 of Indianapolis’ next 4 games against teams picked at the top of their divisions (Eagles, Texans, Patriots).
2. Sunday, October 14 versus Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s true that we don’t expect Cincinnati to win the division. We don’t even know if they’ll be favored to win this game. But if you can replace an expected L with a surprise W on your schedule, the season’s outlook changes drastically. Ending Pittsburgh’s 6-game win streak against the Bengals and getting over that mental hump is huge.
1. Sunday, October 7 versus Miami Dolphins
Both teams play tough opponents the week before this matchup. We’re guessing (well, hoping …… um, better make it praying) that the Miami Dolphins will be smarting more from their visit to New England than Cincinnati will be after its trip to Atlanta. If Andy Dalton and company can avoid looking ahead to game #2 on this list, that could pave the way to a pivotal win here.