The outlook for the Cincinnati Bengals as they enter Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers is much cloudier than it was just one week ago.
Going into Week 8 against the Browns, the Bengals were looking healthier and the offense was on an obvious upswing.
Then they went down hard, 32-13 on primetime.
So no, a game against a 2-6 opponent isn’t as simple as it seems. The Bengals still don’t have Ja’Marr Chase back and he was last seen on crutches in the locker room. Star nose tackle DJ Reader remains out. Backup tackle Josh Tupou is out. Top corner Chidobe Awuzie is on injured reserve and top slot corner Mike Hilton will miss the game due to a finger injury.
Even offensive tackle La’el Collins, one of two weak points on the line right now, is questionable after missing time this week due to an illness.
If there’s a saving grace to the whole outlook it’s that the Browns just sort of own the Bengals in recent years. Bad matchup or whatever other reasoning doesn’t excuse the poor performance by players and the coaching staff. But it does give some hope that things can get back to normal like they were during a blowout win over the Falcons.
The Panthers, after all, have lost four of their last five, the exception a win over a 3-5 team. A P.J. Walker-led offense averages less than 20 points per game and largely relies on a power-based running game to open things up.
Should the Bengals defense without Reader manage to hold up, it’s hard to imagine the Joe Burrow-led offense can’t put up enough points to win.
Carolina generally struggles on third downs and if the Bengals actually plan to stretch the field, it’s safe to trust Tee Higgins to pull in a few big plays.
It also takes some trust that Zac Taylor and Bengals coaches will better adapt game plans to make that work. The ball will again have to get out fast against an elite edge rusher like Brian Burns and that could mean needing to mix up who gets how many snaps at running back with Joe Mixon struggling.
Given how things have gone for the Panthers, from firing a head coach to trading away star players and more, the Bengals should have an easy one at home. But it’s never that simple, so look for a close game to come down to Evan McPherson’s leg.
Prediction: Bengals 23, Panthers 20