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Bengals must avoid bad stretch

The Cincinnati Bengals lost their first game of the 2015 National Football League season on Monday Night Football against the Houston Texans at Paul Brown Stadium. It was a shocking loss in which Cincinnati only scored six points. How shocking was the defeat? The Bengals were favored to win the game by double the amount of points they put on the scoreboard.

Cincinnati is still in great position. At 8-1, it leads the AFC North by 2.5 games over the Pittsburgh Steelers and has already all but clinched the division over the woeful Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, who each have two wins apiece. So why the consternation surrounding the Bengals?

Well, Cincinnati has to play the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday Night Football this week. Arizona is 7-2 and arguably the best team in the NFC, making this an extremely difficult contest for the man in the striped helmets. The Cardinals are vying for their first NFC West crown since the days of Anquan Boldin and Kurt Warner, and notching an eighth win before Thanksgiving will go a long way toward that goal.

Should the Bengals fall short against the Cardinals, they will suddenly be victims of a two-game losing streak and likely have played themselves out of any hope for a top seed in the AFC playoffs. Considering how the New England Patriots are playing, though, that might already be a foregone conclusion.

Cincinnati’s bigger concern would be holding on in the AFC North. Pittsburgh has a BYE week and would only be two games off the pace should the Bengals falter. Additionally, the two teams play each other on Dec. 13 at Cincinnati. The good news for the Bengals? Their schedule is fairly easy. They get a home game against the Ravens and also host the St. Louis Rams. There are road games versus the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and the suddenly-struggling Denver Broncos.

Even if Cincinnati falls to the Steelers in the rematch (the Bengals won at Heinz Field), it would still be in great shape. The Bengals simply don’t want to have a month-long stretch where things get ugly. Cincinnati has a chance to finally earn a first-round BYE and make some noise in the playoffs. This is a team that has not won a postseason game since 1991 when Boomer Esiason was under center.

This should be a great season in the Queen City for Andy Dalton and Co. It certainly has enjoyed a terrific start, and with a soft schedule for the majority of the remaining regular season, there is no reason for things to change now.

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