For the first time since George H.W. Bush was President of the United States, the Bengals are preparing to play in a playoff game past Wild Card weekend. It’s a divisional round game in Nashville against the number 1 seed Tennessee Titans.
The Titans come into this matchup coming off of a bye and getting healthy at the right time. Finally, they’ll have the trio of Derrick Henry, AJ Brown and Julio Jones all playing at the same time. They figure to need all the firepower they can get because the Bengals have plenty of that as well.
With all of the national attention being pointed at the Bills-Chiefs showdown on Sunday evening, I see this game as the one that will be more exciting. It is as simple as this – the Titans are going to run the ball and the Bengals are going to air it out. The Bengals run game has been a non-factor for a couple months now and Joe Burrow has been the hottest QB in the NFL since. Tennessee yields the 31st ranked pass defense telling me there are points to be scored.
Looking a little beyond that statement, Tennessee does present a tough matchup rushing the passer. Sacking the QB while only rushing 4 guys has been something they’ve had success with. Zac Taylor will have to figure out ways to keep the Titans’ pass rush guessing. The easiest way to do it? Score early. Play with a lead. Okay, maybe that’s easier said than done. But the Bengals are going to have a long night in Nashville if they’re playing from behind against a team with Derrick Henry in the backfield.
X-Factor: Bengals’ tackling
Tackling. I have loads of confidence that DJ Reader and Co. can stuff the Titans at the line of scrimmage, but if guys like Logan Wilson aren’t there to clean it up, Derrick Henry will churn out 7 yards a carry.
Prediction: No matter how scared I’m supposed to feel about Derrick Henry, I’m just not. He’s by far the best back in the league and you won’t hear me say any different. But quarterbacks win in January. I’ve been pretty happy with Lou Anarumo’s gameplans throughout the season and I’m confident he’ll scheme up yet another masterpiece. He and Zac Taylor have both coached Ryan Tannehill, so they should be able to come up with a game plan to put the defense in a position to succeed. The Bengals come out hot and start fast. Tee Higgins has one of those games where he looks like prime AJ Green in his home state. The defense capitalizes on a Ryan Tannehill mistake as the Titans get desperate. Cincinnati wins 34-21 as they begin to prepare for a shot at the Super Bowl.
MVP: Logan Wilson