Thehave proven to be one of the surprise teams of the season's first quarter. But they face one of their biggest challenges yet when the defending NFC champion come to town on Sunday.
For the past four years, the Bengals have enjoyed uncharacteristically consistent success during the regular season. The team finished with a winning record each of those years and earned a trip to the postseason, the first time in franchise history that the team qualified for more than two consecutive seasons. However, the Bengals seemed to implode as soon as the playoffs began, with quarterbackregressing badly in the most critical moments. Dalton's inability to lead the team in big games became the dominant narrative surrounding Cincinnati, especially after the front office signed him to a long-term extension worth nearly $100 million.
So far in 2015, Dalton has played like a different quarterback. He has completed 78 of his 116 passes (a career-high percentage of 67.2) and accrued 1,187 passing yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception. The lack of turnovers have been crucial to the Bengals' 4-0 start, as it has helped the team produce 30.3 points per game -- fourth-most in the league. Many fear another regression looms for Dalton, but for the time being, he is playing the position at an elite level.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks have slogged through the first four games of the season. The team narrowly picked up a win on Monday Night Football against thethat was overshadowed by a crucial missed call at the end of the game. The back-to-back NFC champoins also looked mortal during their two losses against the and . The offense in particular has struggled to get into rhythm, and the offensive line does not appear likely to perform at acceptable levels this season.
Still, some reason for optimism exists in Seattle. The return of All-Pro safetyhas helped the defense improve from 29th in points allowed after Week 2 to fourth entering Week 5. Chancellor's heady play also helped the Seahawks hold on against the Lions Monday night when he caused to fumble before reaching the end zone.
The schedule gets much easier soon, as four of the team's next six games take place at CenturyLink Field. One of the away games during that stretch takes place against the, a team that may still be without starting quarterback and star wideout Dez Bryant. Still, the Seahawks need to overcome a difficult matchup with the Bengals before they can hit that stretch.
Marshawn Lynch will be out for a second straight week with a hamstring injury, leavingas the top available back. Rawls has performed well in a reserve role, but no one on the roster can replicate what Lynch provides for the offense. It will be on Russell Wilson's shoulders once again as Seattle's offense struggles to get out of neutral.
How to watch:
When: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Commentators: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
Online: Verizon NFL Mobile
* * *