After a 4-0 start, the Cincinnati Bengals are out to prove they are the real deal with a tough test in Week 5. On Sunday, the Bengals host the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, who have effectively bounced back after two tight losses to start the season.
Las Vegas sportsbooks have the Bengals giving three points to the Seahawks, according to vegasinsider.com, meaning the game would be a pick’em on a neutral field. Seattle is 5-5 in their last 10 road games, while Cincinnati has lost just two of their last 18 home games.
The over/under is 43 points. All of the Bengals’ games this season have totaled no fewer than 43 points.
Andy Dalton Making The Leap
The Bengals have played well in every phase of the game, but it’s been the steady play of Dalton that has been the big boost to the offense. Cincinnati leads the league in total offense, and they are one of four teams scoring at least 30 points per game.
Dalton is in the middle of the best stretch of his career, playing as well as any quarterback in football. He’s second in the league with a 123.0 passer rating, throwing for nine touchdowns, one interception and nearly 300 yards per game. He’s registered a passer rating of at least 115.9 in each contest, making every defense he faces look less than ordinary.
Has Dalton taken the leap to become one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks or is he on a hot streak that will soon come to an end? Before this season, it had been two years since he even had two straight games with a 100.0 passer rating or better. He’s finished each season with passer ratings ranging from 80.4-88.8 in his four-year career, posting a 1.65:1 touchdown to interception ratio in his best season.
Sunday will easily be Dalton’s biggest challenge. Each of the Bengals past four opponents rank 23rd or worse in scoring defense. Dalton has traditionally had trouble with good teams, going 0-4 in the playoffs. After allowing 61 points in their first two games, the Seahawks have surrendered no offensive touchdowns since the return of defensive back Kam Chancellor.
Seattle's Offensive Line Troubles
The Seahawks reached two consecutive Super Bowls in large part because of their defense, but Russell Wilson and the offense certainly had their moments during both runs. This season, the unit has taken a step back because of a porous offensive line.
Wilson has been efficient with a 100.5 passer rating, but he’s faced constant pressure though four games. He’s tied for the league lead, having been sacked 18 times, and that number would be much higher if he wasn’t so good at making plays with his legs. He’s been sacked one time for every seven pass attempts, which is more than eight times the rate at which Dalton’s been sacked.
Trading center Max Unger for tight end Jimmy Graham has yet to pay dividends. Graham has just 18 catches for 174 yards, coming over in a deal that weakened the Seahawks’ offensive line. Marshawn Lynch’s 3.4 yards per carry are the worst of his nine-year career, and the running back missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, though he could be back on Sunday.
Seattle could have trouble with Cincinnati’s defensive line, which is tied for sixth in the NFL with 11 sacks. Geno Atkins has three of those sacks, and looks to have returned to his All-Pro form of a few years ago.
The Week 5 contest could tell a lot about both teams when trying to sort out where they rank among the rest of the league. The Bengals have exceeded expectations after being knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in four straight seasons. The Seahawks have been the NFC’s best team for two years running, but they’ll have a difficult time making a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Cincinnati is one of six remaining undefeated teams, but it’s uncertain if they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Their opponents have a combined record of 6-10, and a victory in Week 5 would give them their first marquee win of the season.
Seattle is still considered to be among the Super Bowl favorites, but a loss on Sunday would put them under .500 through almost one-third of their schedule. Seattle’s wins have come against the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, who are a combined 1-7. They are a game behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West, and they share the same record as the St. Louis Rams, against whom they lost in Week 1.
Dalton has some of the league’s best offensive weapons in A.J. Green and Jeremy Hill, but he won’t keep up this pace against Seattle’s defense. Wilson’s mobility has allowed him to make enough plays behind a struggling offensive line, and Lynch should give Seattle’s offense a boost. The Bengals’ hot streak may finally come to an end in a low-scoring affair.
Seattle over Cincinnati, 20-17