The Microscope is usually reserved for teams who actually win some games and have a few interesting fantasy performers, but … wait, what’s that you say? The Bengals have won some games? They upset the mighty Chiefs? They do have some decent players? Yes, folks, hell has frozen over. Do not adjust your TV set. I had my doubts, but I have to hand it to Marvin Lewis – he has taken the sorriest bunch in the league and elevated them from pushovers to … dare we say … division leaders. Some viable fantasy players have even started to emerge, and none of them are named Corey Dillon. I have a confession to make, dear readers. I am a closet Bengals fan. I was born in Cincinnati and although I moved at an early age, the Bengals were a team I grew up watching a lot. So a little part of me is very happy to see this team sowing the seeds of success under their new coach. This may or may not be their year for a playoff run, but it’s clear things have finally changed in Cincinnati. The microscope tells us just how much they have changed…
|Team Stats (numbers in parentheses are NFL Ranking)|
|Rushing Offense||112.5 (14)||8 (t15)|
|Passing Offense||216.3 (11)||15 (t8)|
|Rushing Defense||121.4 (22)||7 (13)|
|Passing Defense||209.2 (16)||15 (t25)|
|Turnover Stats||Upcoming Schedule|
|15 takeaways (t20)
12 giveaways (4)
+3 overall (t11)
Things are not looking good here for the fantasy playoffs. Four of the Bengals’ final six games are on the road, including back-to-back games against two of the league’s better defenses in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. A trip to St. Louis in week 16 is a bummer for fantasy championship games as well. The good news is, these Bengals seem to be getting better as the season goes on. Play your matchups carefully, but don’t bench your Bengals automatically just because they face a tough game.
John Kitna, QB – Kitna was a late pickup in fantasy drafts and he’s having a great year. Highlights include three-touchdown games against Cleveland and Baltimore, where Cincinnati scored 34, the most points of any team against the Ravens this year. This week in San Diego looks to be a good start for him, but again, check your matchups against better defenses.
Carson Palmer, QB – With Kitna playing so well, Heisman Trophy winner and all-around golden boy Carson Palmer has yet to throw a single pass this year. Marvin Lewis and the rest of the coaches would like to keep it that way. When young players have a few years to learn behind a more experienced veteran, good things happen – just look at Chad Pennington. Kitna’s success gives the Bengals a chance to bring Palmer along slowly.
Corey Dillon, RB – Corey Dillon has been the lone bright spot on some very bad Bengal teams for the last six seasons, rushing for 1000 yards in all six. But now that the Bengals are finally starting to move up the NFL’s food chain, Corey seems to be writing his own ticket out of town. Dillon has quieted down since his “trade me to Dallas” tirade of a few weeks ago, so maybe he is realizing that he needs to shape up before Marvin Lewis ships him out. Dillon should be ready to accept more of the load this week, after recovering from a groin injury, but be cautious here – a groin injury is easy to aggravate, and there is another player in this mix as well…
Rudi Johnson, RB – Roo-dee! Roo-dee! Roo-dee! Rudi Johnson got his chance and made the most of it, posting three 100-yard games in the last four covering for Corey Dillon. Rudi has quickly become a fan favorite with the Bengals Bandwagon, due to his spectacular play and the perception that Dillon may be on his way out the door. While that’s still a debatable topic, Johnson is the more productive back and the guy you should be starting, this week and probably for the rest of the season.
Chad Johnson, WR – Those of you who took a chance on Johnson in this year’s draft are happy campers. I guarantee it. Of course, it was Johnson’s guarantee that made headlines, and the Bengals followed through and handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season. A guy showing a little more mouth than brains is great, when you can back it up on the field. Johnson has been a solid start all year, and expect his production to continue as Cincy tries to get their first playoff berth in … holy cow, 13 years!
Peter Warrick, WR – Warrick is disappearing off waiver wires fast after this week’s 6-for-114 and a TD, plus a punt return TD, against the Chiefs. If Cincinnati is going to make a run at it this year, Warrick has to make more plays like the ones he did last week. I say stick him in your lineup … this team could be gaining momentum, and we could see more big games from Warrick.
Matt Schobel, TE – Schobel has been up-and-down, at best. He does have a touchdown this year, but also a couple of 0’s and 1-catchers. You should be able to find a better TE on the waiver wire.
Defense/Special Teams – Peter Warrick’s punt return against the Chiefs was electric, and it could be the kind of play that gets this team on a big roll. While Marvin Lewis hasn’t had enough time to put his stamp on this defense yet, there is a chance you could see another TD out of the return game. They might be a good one-week pickup against San Diego, but don’t get your hopes up if you take a chance on this unit.
The Bottom Line
This is really starting to look like the kind of team that could make a run at this year’s playoffs. In a division where both leaders have a record of 5-5, there is some possibility that we could see the first team with a losing record qualify for the playoffs as a division winner. Baltimore still has some Tenacious D, but their offense has major holes because of injury, and they’re struggling to move the ball at all. With a game already in hand against Baltimore, the Bengals will have a good shot at winning this division outright. Watch out if this team gets on a roll, we could see some big fantasy numbers.
Next Week … The Microscope is taking Thanksgiving week off! I’d like to thank all of you for reading this column each week, it will return on Thursday, December 4th. I’ll stuff myself with turkey, catch all the games, and pick a hot team to cover for my next microscope. Until then, good luck to all your teams … and may the best Shark win.