PREVIEW: Cincinnati Bengals at the Philadelphia Eagles
Bengals with much to play for as the Eagles audition a young and promising new QB
The final installment of the NFL's maiden venture into weekly Thursday Night action pits the playoff hungry Cincinnati Bengals against the Philadelphia Eagles in a match-up which finds the perennially competitive Eagles cast in the rare role of spoiler.
Injuries and enough turnovers to supply a Broad St. Bakery through the Holidays have been the primarily reasons for the Eagles' down year, with last weeks' thrilling victory in Tampa netting the Birds their first win in 10 long weeks. Cincinnati on the other hand has managed to remain in the AFC Playoff mix by riding a hot defense, between-the-tackles bruiser BenJarvus Green-Ellis and emerging Superstar A.J. Green on the outside.
Cincinnati's season can best be described as a metronome strapped to a roller coaster, including a 3 game winning streak followed by a 4 game bender immediately chased by a 4 game run to the upside, all culminating in last week's tough loss at home to the grieving Dallas Cowboys. The Bengals' impressive 4-2 road record will be put to the test by a young and subtly improving Nick Foles, the Quarterback the Eagles have wisely chosen to audition as they play out the string. Andy Dalton has done a nice job of spreading the football around to his underrated receiving core but make no mistake, Dalton looks for Green when the game hangs in the balance and you can expect much of the same this Thursday as Cincy looks to exploit an Eagles' secondary that has largely underachieved in 2011 despite attempted off season upgrades. Dalton will of course rely heavily on Green-Ellis as well, and you can look for the "Law Firm" to crack the 1,000 yard mark for the season early in the first half of this one.
Foles' steady improvement seems to have coincided with a burgeoning chemistry he has fostered with WR Jeremy Maclin, who found himself on the business end of last weeks' game winning TD pass as the clock bled out to triple zeroes. Maclin appeared to have suffered a slight groin injury in the victory however so it will be interesting to see if he's ready to go come kickoff. Also on the bubble is RB LeSean McCoy who joined the Eagles ever-growing list of concussion victims back in mid-November. Although rookie Bryce Brown has filled in rather well for the versatile McCoy, Brown's inability to hold onto the football has really hurt the Eagles, and typically at the worst possible time.
For the Bengals, the challenge will be to put last Sunday's disappointing loss in their rearview mirror while refraining from looking ahead to next week's tilt with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game which could very well decide who will be playing into January. I look for veteran Coach Marvin Lewis to have his team ready to take advantage of an injury-depleted Eagle Offensive Line and Defense in a very tight, hard fought ball game that could very well come down to the final possession. A.J.Green will shake off his mini-slump and make a play in the waning moments for the Playoff-worthy Bengals and they will escape the land of cheese steaks and Rocky Balboa with a narrow victory.
Bengals 20 Eagles 19