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Livin' in the Future

The Bengals had a bye this past weekend, and with no Andy Dalton interceptions to criticize or AJ Green body-language to over-analyze or Jermaine Gresham brain farts to victimize, fans were left to watch the rest of the league take the field and prognosticate about potential playoff matchups.

In terms of how the cookie currently crumbles in the AFC standings, the Bengals “didn’t get much help on Sunday,” with the Ravens and Steelers both winning, the Jets losing, the Patriots beating the Broncos, etc. This conversation was all tied to the idea of who the Bengals would face in a first-round playoff game, with someone like the Jets or Titans ostensibly presenting a more favorable matchup than the Broncos or Chiefs (and maybe even the Ravens or how-are-they-not-dead-yet Steelers). I get this, especially during a bye week. But there are a few reasons why fans and forecasters should worry a little less about what could potentially happen six weeks from now.

The first and most obvious reason is that every team in the league has five games remaining. The Bengals could go 5-0 to finish 12-4 and nail down the 2-seed and first-round bye, or they could go 0-5 and be watching from home like the rest of us. Sure, both of those scenarios are unlikely, but they are both possible. Regardless, it’s the Bengals past that reveals more about the folly of scoreboard watching than their potential future.

In the franchise’s last three playoff appearances—all losses—the starting quarterback for the opposing team has been Mark Sanchez, TJ Yates, and Matt Schaub. All three of those men are currently on NFL rosters; none are starting quarterbacks (with the latter two currently riding pine for the same team). The Bengals never eclipsed 14 points in any of the three contests, reaching a high of exactly 300-yards total offense only once, including only 198 total yards in 2012. In his two playoff starts (both against the Texans), Andy Dalton is 41 of 72 (57-percent completion, 5.1 yards-per-attempt) for 384 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs, a QB rating of 48.1, and a QBR of 20.1. He’s led the offense (and there’s some major double-entendre action right there) to only one total touchdown, a number matched by the defense over the same two-game span.

Oh, and in 2005, which was undoubtedly the team’s best chance to get a win in their last four playoff trips, the team’s star quarterback—while throwing a 66-yard bomb down the right sideline on the team’s second play from scrimmage, against a Pittsburgh squad that would go on to win the Super Bowl—blew out his knee.

If the Bengals (and Bengals fans) had a choice in which opponent they faced in a (potential but not yet guaranteed) playoff game, it’d be a no-brainer to take the Jets or Titans over the Broncos or Chiefs (or even the Ravens or Steelers). But as history has proven, it really doesn’t matter. It’s much more about how the team plays as opposed to whom the team plays. And in Week 12, the Bengals didn’t play at all.