In the last three weeks, we’ve seen the number of undefeated teams in the NFL fall from an all-time record of six after Week 5, and five after Week 7 to just two after Week 10. The first team to give up its perfect record was the Atlanta Falcons. Starting 5-0, a TNF loss to the division-rival Saints started a period that would see the Falcons lose three of the four games before their Week 10 bye. The next team to give up its perfect record was the Green Bay Packers; after their defeat in Denver, they lost their next three, including an 18–16 defeat at home to the Detroit Lions, who have spent more weeks at the bottom of the RealSport power rankings than any other.
The Broncos were next to enter a tailspin, following a 27–24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts with a 29–13 humiliation by the Kansas City Chiefs, who held Peyton Manning to just 5 completions for 35 yards on 20 attempts, four interceptions and the first 0.0 passer rating of his illustrious career. But in Week 10 it was the turn of the Cincinnati Bengals to snap their winning streak, losing 10–6 to the Houston Texans to leave the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers as the only teams sitting pretty at 9–0. So with the Falcons, Packers and Broncos embarking on losing streaks that seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago, the question is: can the Bengals avoid doing the same?
To decide that, let’s look at the circumstances surrounding the current trends particularly in Green Bay and Denver, who like the Bengals had remained perfect when they entered their Week 7 bye. Unfortunately for the Packers, their schedule saw them return from their bye week with games against two fellow unbeaten teams in the Broncos and the Panthers – tougher prospects than any of the teams they’d played earlier in the season. Their loss to the Lions came totally out of the blue. Playing against a division rival is never easy, but the Lions had only won one game in 2015 before last week, and that was in overtime. Against the Bears. At home.
This time the Packers had home advantage against a team that hadn’t won at Lambeau Field since 1991. But Detroit looked inspired while Green Bay looked shaken and lacked the ability to finish when it came to the crunch. First, Aaron Rodgers was rushed into a pass to Davante Adams on a two-point attempt that would have tied the game with 32 seconds left, and then – after Calvin Johnson gifted the Packers an onside kick recovery to set up a potential game-winning field goal – kicker Mason Crosby made a complete balls-up of his effort from an entirely makeable 52 yards. Meanwhile, the Broncos’ defeat in Indianapolis may have been unexpected, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise. Although the Colts had lost their last three games, none of those had been by more than seven points and their quarterback, Andrew Luck, is one of the best in the league.
Even more of a hindrance for the Broncos, though, was Peyton Manning’s struggle with plantar fasciitis for the last few weeks, and he ended up tearing the tendon against the Colts. Coach Gary Kubiak later admitted he shouldn’t have allowed Manning to play against the Chiefs the following week, and that the injury contributed to the quarterback’s abysmal first-half performance. But what about the Bengals? In Week 11, they travel to Glendale, Arizona, to face the Cardinals – by all accounts, a tough football team, who themselves have only lost twice in 2015. But their victors, the Rams and the Steelers, have shown that even the league’s more inconsistent teams can put points on a tough Cardinal defense that conceded 32 points to the 4–5 Seattle Seahawks last week. Unlike Peyton Manning, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has no injury worries. He’s also one of the league’s form players, and has an arsenal of receivers to throw to, including AJ Green and Tyler Eifert, who has caught more TD passes than any tight end in the NFL this year.
If Dalton can use these weapons to his advantage, as he was largely prevented from doing against the Texans on Monday night, he may be able to stop the Cardinals from putting another L next to his team’s name. But despite their W-L record, this is an Arizona team that has been more effective on both offense and defense than the Bengals this season, and victory for Cincinnati is far from assured. Winning a tough game could be enough to prevent Cincinnati following that downward trend established by the Falcons, Packers, and Broncos before them.