The New Orleans Saints begin the final and toughest part of their schedule when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
While the Bengals’ record is 2-9, tied with the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills for second worst in the NFL, Cincinnati lost some close ones, including five games by a touchdown or less.
The Bengals have a talented quarterback in Carson Palmer, who has thrown for 2,760 yards and 19 touchdowns. But despite having two outstanding wide receivers on the Bengals roster, Palmer has struggled, with a completion rate of 59.5% (the second lowest in the USC standout’s professional career) and having been intercepted 15 times.
Free agent wide out Terrell Owens is tied for fourth in total receptions (65), third in receiving yards (914) and eighth in touchdowns with eight. Fellow receiver Chad Ocho Cinco (or however he runs his adopted surname together) has not shared in TO’s success.
Number eighty-five is tied at 33rd in receiving touchdowns (4), 26th in receiving yards (628) and 20th in receptions with 54. In other words, he’s having an “ocho stinko” 2010 compared to the other seasons where he played in most of the games on the schedule.
The Bengals’ air attack ranks 11th in the NFL, averaging 237.5 passing yards a game but are 25th in rushing with an average of 92 ground yards, with an overwhelming majority coming from running back Cedric Benson. In terms of scoring, the “Who Deys” are 21st with an average of 20.5 points per game while the “Who Dat’ 6th ranked defense has been surrendering 17.9 points per game.
Gregg Williams’s secondary are going to have their hands full with Owens and #85, though the Saints defense has had some recent success with the former. When the Black and Gold played the Buffalo Bills last season, Owens, who was playing for his fourth team thus far did not make a single reception, snapping a 185 game-catch streak that began in 1996.
The Saints’ last meeting with the Bengals’ “second” or “dos” receiver during the 2006 season did not go so well. Playing under his birth name Chad Johnson, the wide receiver burned the Black and Gold secondary for six receptions for 190 yards and three touchdowns, the longest being for sixty yards. The former Mr. Johnson had his season best yards per catch game in the Superdome, averaging 31.7.
The good news for the Saints is that the team is the healthiest it has been since the beginning of the season. The recent injury reports contained only three names- with tight end Jeremy Shockey and free safety Darren Sharper not appearing on the dubious list. The Saints are most complete at the very point of the schedule where the heaviest lifting is to be done if they want a shot at repeating as NFC South Champions or making the playoffs.
Historically, the Saints have enjoyed relative success against the Bengals. As of 1994, Cincinnati was one of the few teams New Orleans had a winning series record against. 1994 was also the last time the Saints beat them. Since then, the Black and Gold has dropped three in a row. The most infamous of those was on a road trip there in 2002, when the Bengals were plain awful, so much so that the sports page of the Times-Picayune mocked them in a story referring to them as the “Bungles” and featured a picture of a black and orange striped skunk.
The Bengals were 1-13 with their lone win being against the expansion Houston Texans while then-coach Jim Haslett’s Saints were 9-5 and needed only a single win in their remaining two games to make it to the playoffs. In my mind that game was the beginning of the end of Haslett’s tenure in New Orleans after giving the Bengals their second win of the season with a 20-13 score, courtesy of the Bengals’ stout run defense. The Bengals currently lead the series 6-5.
The Oddsmaker v. the Scheduling Fairies/Weather Gods
Danny Sheridan has the Saints as a 6.5 point favorite over the Bengals. The dome-oriented Saints have not had a lot of success in cold weather, especially under coach Sean Payton. Also quarterback Drew Brees had trouble passing the ball in Candlestick Park earlier this season, meaning the Saints will have to get yards on the ground. With running backs Reggie Bush back on the field and Pierre Thomas continuing to make progress in his own recovery, the Saints should have all of their primary ground weapons suited up and ready to go.
If this game would have been played in September or October in Cincinnati, I would feel better about the Saints’ chances. But it’s not. When the 2010 schedule was released, it looked as if the league was going to make a point of making a “Two Dat” more of a challenge.
Maybe I’m still haunted by the Saints’ 2002 disastrous trip to Cincinnati, concerned about weather conditions (The Weather Channel is currently projecting a high of 37 degrees with snow showers on game day), shaken from the last three road trips to frigid Soldier Field and a kicking game that’s questionable in the climate controlled confines of the Superdome, but I can see the Bengals winning this one. Take the elements and the points