NFL 2018 Season - Week 14
 

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Three Strikes
by Dennis Ranahan

The Cincinnati Bengals are off to their best start in years.

By the skin of his teeth, Marvin Lewis, now in his 16th season as head coach of the Bengals, held on to his job after a second consecutive losing season last year. The Bengals downturn had many thinking Lewis, the second longest tenured head coach in the league, only New England’s Bill Belichick has served his team longer in the same capacity, would be out after a second straight losing campaign.

Instead, management stuck with Lewis, and now he has the team looking like the one that won the AFC North Division three years ago. Lewis has led the Bengals into the playoffs seven times, but his only postseason wins were gained as defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. The seven straight postseason losses have frustrated fans and management alike, and loom over the coach like a dark cloud on his career resume.

But this year, the consistency the Bengals front office has shown Lewis has paid off in the win/loss column. The Bengals are 2-0, and more teams make the playoffs than don’t who open their campaigns with a pair of wins.

This season, there are nine NFL teams without a loss, although two of those teams have only one win. The Green Bay Packers nipped the Chicago Bears in their Sunday night opener, and then fought to a standoff against the Vikings in Minnesota last week, 29-29. The Vikings opened with a win against the San Francisco 49ers before their duel at Lambeau.

In addition to the Bengals, the other six teams with two wins and no losses, are the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

While the Rams and Jaguars are on the undefeated list to no one’s surprise, a few of the 2-0 teams do seem unlikely. The Tampa Buccaneers are not only 2-0, but they have downed two teams considered stiff competition, the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles. This week, the Bucs host the Pittsburgh Steelers, who come to Tampa without a win.

If those streaks get pushed into a fourth week, the Bucs have gone a long way towards earning a postseason slot and having a heck of a quarterback controversy when Jameis Winston completes his four game suspension. A win on Monday night by the home team would also drop the Steelers to the cellar in their division … now that the Browns have snapped a losing streak seemingly as long as Charlie Brown not kicking the ball out of Lucy’s hold.

With a win, the Steelers are right back in the thick of their division race.

The Bengals would add extra urgency for the Steelers to get their first win the next night if Cincinnati was to move to 3-0 with a victory at Carolina on Sunday.

The Panthers opened with a 16-8 home win over the Dallas Cowboys, and lost last week in Atlanta to the Falcons, 31-24. Carolina Quarterback Cam Newton is capable of lighting up a scoreboard with either his arm or legs. Christian McCaffrey is a threat every time he touches the ball. The defense has not yet developed the reputation that the unit had in their Super Bowl season three years ago, but holding the Cowboys to eight points in their home opener lends well to their ability to lead a win.

The offense was limited to 16 points in their opening win over Dallas, but that was enough for a defense that allowed the Cowboys only one score.

Following a loss that produced 24 points against a good Atlanta defense bodes well for the probability that the Panthers will score more than 24 points at home this week, and that should be enough to cover the three point spread.

It does not compute for me that the Bengals would win three games before the Steelers got their first victory of the season. I’m not sure the Steelers are best prepared to snap their winless streak in Florida on Monday night, while I am convinced that the Bengals don’t win in Carolina on Sunday.

Qoxhi Picks: Carolina Panthers (-3) over Cincinnati Bengals