Cincinnati Bengals’ Playoff Odds Take Hit With A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard Injuries
The Cincinnati Bengals could have been in an amazing spot heading into a week 12 date with the Baltimore Ravens. With a big week 11 win over the Buffalo Bills, they would have been 4-5-1 and had a chance to drop the 5-5 Ravens out of the top spot in the AFC North.
From there, they’d have a future battle with the 5-5 Pittsburgh Steelers to give them a chance at a complete turnaround and a first place finish in one of the ugliest divisions in pro football.
That, at least to this point, wasn’t to be.
Instead, the Bengals fell to the Bills in and ugly 16-12 loss and complicated their rapidly fading 2016 season even further.
It gets even worse for the Bengals, who at 3-6-1 probably aren’t feeling too good about themselves.
Adding injury to insult, the Bengals didn’t escape their week 11 loss unscathed, either, as they lost two key pieces to their offense.
Not only did star wide receiver A.J. Green suffer a tear in his hamstring early in the game, but versatile running back Giovani Bernard also was hurt late in the game. It was discovered late on Sunday that he’d miss the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL:
Source: #Bengals running back Giovani Bernard tore his left ACL today.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 21, 2016
Bernard is done for the year. There isn’t any coming back from a torn ACL even if it happens in the preseason or the summer. In the middle of the year at this stage of the season? Forget about it.
Cincinnati’s real concern will be the severity of Green’s injury. Bernard is at least somewhat replaceable. Jeremy Hill is the team’s regular early down running back and is plenty capable of shouldering a huge rushing load, while bringing in someone to hold down passing down duties isn’t an insurmountable feat.
Replacing Green, however, is flat out impossible.
Green has been one of the most heavily targeted wide receivers since arriving in the league in 2011 and in 2016 alone had already secured 66 catches for nearly 1,000 receiving yards.
In a lot of ways, A.J. Green was the Bengals’ offense.
That doesn’t figure to be the case the rest of the way, sadly, as early reports suggest Green’s season may be over:
Bengals fear Green out for year with possible hamstring tear. But MRI pending
— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) November 20, 2016
Green could be at best looking at a multi-week layoff that could extend to the playoffs. Considering the playoffs aren’t a guaranteed destination for the Bengals this year, it makes sense that he could simply be shut down.
The only possible good news here is the Bengals actually have the depth to possibly withstand these injuries. Jeremy Hill had a huge role as one of Cincinnati’s main rushers to begin with, and with Gio done for the year, his role on the ground would only increase.
The Bengals would then fill in for the remainder of Bernard’s touches by increasing the roles of backup running back, Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead doesn’t have the home run hitting speed Bernard possessed, but he’s displayed soft hands and shiftiness out of the backfield. He’s still certainly a downgrade, but more Hill and a bigger role out of Burkhead could – in theory – successfully replace the injured Bernard.
Replacing Green isn’t as easy. Actually, as we stated, it’s really not truly possible.
That being said, instead of funneling targets to one guy, the Bengals could try their hand at either running a more conservative offense via Hill on the ground, or spreading the wealth to stud tight end Tyler Eifert and what looks to new #1 target, Brandon LaFell.
This could also be a terrific chance to shove 2016 draft pick Tyler Boyd into a featured role. Boyd drew rave reviews this past summer, but has never really blossomed as the team’s third receiver.
With Green sidelined, Boyd’s speed and play-making ability could be put on display and a more spread out Bengals offense could keep defenses guessing.
That isn’t to say the Bengals are better without Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green, but they’d be different and perhaps not in as bad of a state as knee-jerk implications suggest.
Crazy Super Bowl Bet?
We’re certainly not suggesting the Bengals are a legit Super Bowl contender, but they are a very interesting team to toss a flier bet on right about now.
A year ago, this team looked like a true Super Bowl contender before a broken thumb took out Andy Dalton and saw this team spiral out of control.
Their 2016 run has not been good, but they weren’t remotely close to full strength on either side of the ball until just a few weeks ago. The Bengals haven’t been atrocious, either. Of their six losses, three have been decided by 8 points or less.
The other three were understandable defeats to the Broncos, Patriots and Cowboys – all of which are 7-3 or better and look like strong playoff bets.
The point? Cincinnati may not be as terrible as their record indicates and there might actually be a clear path to the playoffs.
Hoping for an A.J. Green return might be wishful thinking at this point, but one way or another, it’s not crazy to imagine the Bengals turning this thing around and sneaking into the playoffs and going on a crazy run as a Wild Card team.
Once in, anything can happen, and suddenly those insane +20000 Super Bowl odds you’ll find at online betting sites like Bovada don’t look so ridiculous.
So, how do the Bengals stay relevant?
It starts by beating an inconsistent Ravens team in week 12. The two sides haven’t faced yet in 2016 and Baltimore stands in at an uninspiring 5-5. A win this week, and suddenly the Bengals are right back in the race for the AFC North, with a 4-6-1 record and the Ravens dropping down to 5-6.
If they can move past the Eagles and Browns, Cincy would stay alive at 6-6-1 when they take on the Steelers three weeks later. Considering Pittsburgh already is just 5-5 themselves, a win there would understandably place the Bengals at the top of the division.
From there, Andy Dalton and co. would close the year with wins over the Texans and Ravens – which happens to potentially be a massive regular season finale.
Just like that, the 3-6-1 Bengals storm the castle, win the division and get in the playoffs.
Of course, that all requires them winning out. That’s not safe or to be expected. That’s why their Super Bowl odds are of the +200000 variety.
That being said, the AFC North is garbage and the Bengals still hold their own fate in their hands. They just need to start winning. Whether or not that gets you excited enough to bet on the cats to finally show their claws is up to you. But the path is set.
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