It's a crossroads game for the Bengals coming up Sunday. No other way to describe it, kids.
Fork in the road game. Defining game. Watershed game. Pick your cliche.
By 4 p.m. Sunday, we'll know whether or not this team will be worth our time for the rest of this season.
I'm not going to get into the math. You know "teams that start the season 1-4 have a (fill in the blank) chance of making it to the playoffs." That kind of drivel.
OK, I'll take the bait: Since 1980 five teams total have started a season 0-3 and made the playoffs. The last team was the 1998 Bills. 1-4? Nine teams have pulled it off since 1990. There are other exceptions.
Back in 2011, the Bills rolled into Cincinnati at a fat and sassy 3-0, lost, and spiraled to an out-of-control 6-10 season. The Bengals were 1-2 going into that game. They beat the Bills, won the next four, and qualified for the playoffs as a wildcard team.
I don't know if anything like that happens now. If I did, do you honestly think I'd be sitting here writing about it?
I do know that the Bills don't turn the ball over. They have one turnover in their first four games. I also know the Bills have allowed just one passing touchdown in four games. I also know those two statistics paired together are crazy.
They have a front four that brings "the heat." Buffalo's defense has 11 sacks in four games. Put that up against a Bengals offensive line that has been, to put it gently, porous in the last year and a quarter and you might have a recipe for Andy Dalton on his back more than upright.
This Bengals defense isn't so bad either. Carlos Dunlap has been a chore to block. Geno Atkins can make it a long day for any lineman in the game. Vontaze Burfict is back, but Nick Vigil is playing so well, you hardly notice. And the Bills haven't done a great job protecting quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He's been leveled 12 times in four games. The Bills' best receiver, Jordan Matthews, is out hurt and they're a run-first team even with Matthews.
We could spend the rest of the day analyzing strengths and weaknesses and predicting outcomes. It's as simple as this: Do the Bengals' strengths match up well with the Bills' weaknesses? And, of course, vice versa.
The Bills protect the ball and don't allow a lot of touchdowns passes. They've just beaten the Broncos in Buffalo and the Falcons in Atlanta, two teams destined for the playoffs.
This isn't looking so good for the home team. But, that's why they play the games.
Now some random thoughts on this random Thursday...
It makes no sense for Major League Baseball teams to fight and claw their way into the playoffs and then play a one-game elimination. Somebody did the math: It's like two NFL teams getting into a wildcard game and playing for 5.7 minutes. At least make it a best of three. Here's an idea, cut down on "The 162"...
NASCAR star Denny Hamlin says he and his left-turn brethren deserve the same kind of pay as players in the NFL and NBA. Well, OK, last I checked NASCAR's attendance figures were plummeting like a bad stock. And, you only see the guys who drive the cars twice a day -- when they climb into the car and when they climb out of it. So that makes the cars the stars of NASCAR...
The Browns appear to be their dysfunctional selves again this season. But the guy in charge is thinking big.
Of course, he may want to start with a few things, like drafting a franchise quarterback and having a few players for him to throw to...
The Titans may not have Marcus Mariota this Sunday for their game against the Dolphins. So they held a quarterback tryout Tuesday and wound up signing Brandon Weeden. They didn't sign Colin Kaepernick. In fact, they didn't even invite Kaepernick for a workout.
It's not hard to figure out what's going on here. Either there's a consensus that Kaepernick's skill are diminished or that team owners don't want Kaepernick in their locker rooms. To say either is a clear cut answer is unwise.
Coaches would hire a jewel thief if they thought he would help them win a football game. And remember, Kaepernick couldn't start for the second-worst team in football last season. Owners, who are on the run with more than 55 percent of their fans, if polls regarding players kneeling during the National Anthem are to be believed, don't want the backlash of employing the man who is at the epicenter of it.
There is no option three...
Now, back to the college basketball scandal. This is one of the reasons why reading Dennis Dodd of cbsportsports.com should be on you daily to do list. Great read on how the basketball scandal may impact the No. 1 unemployed head football coach...
The University of Louisville hired an acting athletic director who's never run an athletic department in his life. Actually, with the way things have gone at that place, it's probably not a bad idea...
We lost a giant in the music business this week. Like you, I was shocked to hear of the sudden death of Tom Petty. His music was innovative, catchy and oftentimes made you think. Like this song, my Petty favorite:
This is from Petty's debut album, all the way back in 1976.
He was from Gainesville, Florida, a hotbed for southern rock back in the '70s. Petty worked some odd jobs while trying to hit it big in the music business. One of those jobs was at a guitar store that allowed its help to have instruments in exchange for working at the store.
Petty started there as did his eventual drummer in the Heartbreakers, Stan Lynch. In fact, the drum kit that Lynch uses on this song is the same one he "bought" at the store. Eventual Eagles lead guitarist Don Felder worked at the store and gave Petty guitar lessons. Duane Allman was another employee. They all cut their teeth, playing to local clubs in Gainesville.
This song was never a hit in the USA. It never charted. But it became a staple of Petty's concerts, as well as classic rock radio stations.
Some thought that Petty wrote the song about a University of Florida co-ed who committed suicide. The song references a highway that runs through Gainesville. It might have. Petty never dispelled the notion. But he said later, he wrote the song while living in Los Angeles, not Florida.
And on Sept. 25, a week before his death and on stage for the final time, Petty played this song, as he did at every one of his gigs. It was the last song he would play. As he did at every one of his gigs, he closed with "American Girl."
And another legend leaves us. Keith Richards will outlive every one of them.