CINCINNATI (AP) — Only three wins heading into December? That’s a new one for Andy Dalton and many of the Bengals.
And they have company that can commiserate this weekend.
The Bengals (3-7-1) are already thinking about next year as they get set to host the Eagles (5-6), who are pretty much in the same predicament. The first game of December is wrapped in a lot of what-ifs for both teams.
“It’s different,” Dalton said. “I’ve never really been in this situation in my life or with any sport that I’ve ever played. I’ve been just trying to figure out how to change it.”
So are the Eagles, who won their first three games in what was expected to be a rebuilding season behind rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. They’ve since lost six of eight, leaving them — like the Bengals — with only the slimmest chance for reaching the playoffs.
“Yeah, it’s been an up-and-down year,” Eagles defensive end Connor Barwin said. “Obviously we were all very excited at the beginning of the year.”
Mathematically, each of them still has a chance.
The Bengals could win another title in the subpar AFC North by running the table and having the Ravens (6-5) and the Steelers (6-5) fall apart.
The Eagles have home games left with all three teams in their division — the Cowboys (10-1), the Giants (8-3) and the Redskins (6-4-1) — so there’s a chance to gain ground in the wild-card race.
Whoever loses on Sunday can pretty much go ahead and write off the season and get ready for a dismal December.
“We brought this on ourselves,” Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones said.
Some things to watch on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
NO RUSH: The Eagles have only six sacks in the past five games after recording 20 in the first six. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has four sacks and none in the past seven games. Cox signed a contract that included more guaranteed money ($63 million) than any non-quarterback has ever received.
“He draws a lot of attention, a lot of double teams,” coach Doug Pederson said. “He still is very disruptive and can be a force inside. It’s just a matter of the sheer determination and wanting to get the job done. He’s still a very capable defensive lineman for us.”
Defensive end Vinny Curry signed a contract that included $23 million guaranteed. He has only 1½ sacks. End Brandon Graham leads the team with five, but only has one in the past five games.
BALANCING ACT: The Eagles are 0-4 when they don’t rush for 100 yards and 0-3 when Wentz throws more than 40 passes. Pederson has stressed the need for balance, so he tries to run the ball and control the clock to limit the pressure on his rookie quarterback.
Against the Packers, Wentz threw 36 passes and the running backs only had 13 carries. Rookie Wendell Smallwood is expected to get the bulk of the workload against the Bengals if Ryan Mathews can’t return from a knee injury.
IN YOUR FACE: The Ravens tried an unusual — and successful — strategy against Dalton during their 19-14 win on Sunday. Rather than a full-out pass rush on Cincinnati’s final series, they held their spots and put up their hands, batting down four of Dalton’s last eight passes as they closed out the win. It’ll be interesting to see if the Eagles try some of the same against an offense missing deep threat A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard.
“I’ve never seen it happen four times on a drive,” Dalton said. “We have to do whatever we can do not to let that happen.”
PAT PROBLEMS: Bengals kicker Mike Nugent has missed his past three point-after-touchdown attempts and four of his past eight, playing a huge role in close games. The Bengals are 0-3-1 in their past four games, with Nugent’s missed PAT and field goal attempt figuring in the 27-27 tie with Washington. The three losses have been by a total of 10 points. The Bengals have decided to stick with Nugent rather than find a late-season fill-in. The home crowd won’t take kindly to another miss of any sort.
HOME WOES: The Bengals are only 4-5 at Paul Brown Stadium since the middle of last season, including a first-round playoff meltdown against the Steelers last season. Fans booed and left early during a 16-12 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 20. Given how the season has gone, playing at home isn’t much of an advantage.