Two of the league's more physical teams square off this Sunday when the New York Jets travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. With dominant defenses and bruising backs, both teams are out to lay the wood on opponents, which should make for a hard-hitting game.
The Bengals overcame a 2-2 start to reel off three consecutive wins, the latest coming in a 27-24 thriller at Detroit. With the Ravens and Browns struggling, Cincinnati had built a two-game lead over the rest of the AFC North and is the team to beat in the division.
The Jets have been one of the league's biggest surprises. After a comically bad offseason, everyone was expecting an epic collapse from Rex Ryan's team in 2013. Instead, they've jumped out to a 4-3 start. The controversy surrounding last Sunday's game doesn't make the win over the Patriots any less sweet, and the Jets now sit just one game back of the AFC East lead.
Meet the Bengals
Quarterback Andy Dalton started slow in 2013, but has begun to heat up over the past couple games. He's thrown for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of the last two wins and has brought his season rating up to 93.9. He found A.J. Green for an 82-yard touchdown bomb last Sunday, the third-year wideout's fifth touchdown and seventh 20-yard-plus reception of the season. Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert provide one of the better tight end duos in the league, though the running back timeshare between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard hasn't been as effective as anticipated.
The league's eighth-best rushing defense is anchored by linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who leads the league in combined tackles and has added an interception and a fumble recovery. The secondary took a blow this week when it was announced that No. 1 cornerback Leon Hall was placed on season-ending injured reserve after suffering an Achilles injury against Detroit. Terence Newman, who has been banged up himself recently, and Adam Jones will need to step up to fill the void.
Meet the Jets
Following the Jets' comeback win over the Patriots last weekend, Geno Smith is now the only quarterback since the 1970 merger with four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter in his first seven career games. That's painting a rosy picture of Smith's season -- which has been full of inconsistency -- but it's a promising statistic for Jets fans nonetheless. Part of that inconsistency stems from a struggling receiving corps that has yet to identify a go-to threat. The running game has been the one constant on offense, averaging 124 yards per game. Interestingly, leading rusher Bilal Powell received only three carries against the Patriots, while backup Chris Ivory ran 34 times for 104 yards.
Defensively, the Jets sport a tough, physical unit that prides itself on stopping the run. Linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis head a defensive front that is second in the NFL against the run, and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson leads the team with six sacks.
Local Takes: Bengals
Anthony Cosenza at Cincy Jungle writes that Dalton could be entering his annual mid-season hot streak.
The truth is that, in his two and a half seasons in the NFL, Dalton has proven to be a streaky player. Unfortunately for the Bengals, the streaky nature swings in both positive and negative directions. However, when reviewing some of Dalton's stats and success in the league, he seems to play his best football around the mid-season point. And, after two wins and impressive numbers by Dalton heading into Week Seven, Dalton might just be getting as hot as Hansel right now.
...In the past two weeks alone, Dalton has thrown more touchdowns (six) than he did in the previous five games (five). Additionally, the 709 passing yards in the last two wins make up 37 percent of Dalton's total passing yards on the year (1,924).
Local Takes: Jets
John B at Gang Green Nation thinks the Jets should supplement their struggling receiving corps by trading for Cleveland's Josh Gordon.
...I think if they try to swing a trade, it should be for somebody like Gordon, who is only 22, under contract for 2014 and 2015, and could be a building block for the future in addition to the help he could provide this year. This team needs to get Geno Smith better weapons going forward, and a 6'4" physical threat would be a nice place to start. Gordon is on a roughly 1,000 yard pace this year.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Eifert and Gresham have the most combined receptions (50) by a tight end duo on the same team this year.— Josh Kirkendall (@CincyJungle) October 23, 2013
@joereedy - Bengals beat writer
Andy Dalton once again nominated for the FedEx Air Player of the Week Award— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) October 22, 2013
@BrianCoz - Jets beat writer
Smith has alternated looking brilliant and looking lost so far this season. Against a tough Bengals defensive front, expect him to fall more on the lost side this Sunday. If that doesn't convince you, consider this: The Jets have alternated wins and losses every week this season, winning on odd weeks and losing on even weeks. It's Week 8.
The pick: Bengals 20, Jets 14
The Bengals opened as seven-point favorites, but the line has has since moved to 6½ points, according to Odds Shark.