There was a game in Week 11 that probably most hard core NFL fans paid little attention to. Neither team is leading their division at the moment, in fact neither would make the playoffs if the cutoff was today. Each has faced their share of struggles over the past few seasons and each has had an opportunity to participate in the playoffs. There have been changes at QB, changes in head coaches, and changes in front office management. I guess the real question is “In what direction are each of these teams headed at this very moment?” To throw in another reservation, “Do these teams have what it takes to put themselves where they want to be?”
Cincinnati vs Kansas City
The Cincinnati Bengals took a chartered flight south down to Missouri to face the Kansas City Chiefs. To parallel these two programs wouldn’t be a fair comparison. Cincinnati is coming off a postseason campaign behind a surprise rookie QB in Andy Dalton. But like the Chiefs, the Bengals were sitting below .500 and trying to figure out how to get back in the 2012 playoff picture. The Chiefs on the other hand were looking to break out of the mire of a 6 game losing streak that stretched back to late September.
Kansas City is also in the midst of a regime change that began with the firing of Todd Haley during the 2011 season. Cincinnati continues to roll on in their 10th season under head coach Marvin Lewis, who for all his efforts only has 3 winning seasons (2005, 2009, & 2011). The reason this game strikes me as interesting is that both teams were at a crossroads of sorts back in 2008.
Cincinnati was coming off its 6th season with Marvin Lewis in charge and finishing with his worst record to date (4-11-1). There were some calls for Lewis to move on, but a playoff appearance in year #3 of his reign probably bought some patience from the Brown family. The Bengals were dead last in the NFL in points scored and 19th in points surrendered, putting them 30th in overall point differential. Kansas City had hit what they thought was rock bottom under Herm Edwards. The Chiefs finished 2-14 to capture the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. KC was 26th in points scored, 29th in points allowed and would finish just ahead of Cincinnati in point differential at 29th.
The 2008 season ended with the Chiefs losing to the Bengals in Cincinnati 16-6 and that’s where we pick things up. Long time General Manager Carl Peterson was fired in Kansas City and replaced with the Patriots’ Scott Pioli. Pioli had built his reputation as Bill Belichick’s right hand man in New England and vaulted to the top of Clark Hunt’s wish list when it became apparent he was ready to venture out on his own. Herm Edwards was quickly sent packing and Pioli handpicked Arizona’s hot Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley to implement the Patriot way.
Lewis survived, as did both his coordinators. The Brown family is not one to rock the boat of change, and usually can be counted on to go a little longer with embattled head coaches (sans Dick LeBeau). With the framework in place the Bengals responded with a 10-6 record and Wildcard berth against the Jets. As expected Kansas City showed some improvement to 4-12, but wouldn’t make their first playoff appearance under Pioli/Haley until the following season.
Flash forward. Both teams have since made some monumental changes. Cincinnati traded the face of the franchise, QB Carson Palmer, to the Raiders in 2011 after drafting TCU star Andy Dalton in the 2nd round. The rookie QB led the Bengals to a return trip to the playoffs in his first season. Kansas City fired Head Coach Todd Haley after a poor performance on offense and reported friction with Pioli during 2011. Defensive Coordinator and former New England assistant & Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel would take over for Haley. But the end result hasn’t been too far off from the previous regime.
The Bengals would take 21 straight points sandwiched between two Chief FG’s to jump out to an insurmountable 21-6 lead and cruise to their 5th victory of 2012 (28-6). Much maligned KC QB Matt Cassel would be benched in the 3rd quarter for journeyman Brady Quinn. Telling in this tale is the confidence of Cincinnati to rebound from 4 consecutive losses with wins over the World Champion NY Giants, then to go on the road and soundly beat a team they were clearly superior to.
Suffice to say that Kansas City is headed to another dismal finish (perhaps their worst ever), yet Cincinnati remains in the playoff picture. What was it after 2008 that brought these two clubs to this particular point; vision, leadership, coaching, talent? Where and with whom does the responsibility for both clubs fortunes fall?
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