I'll be the first to say that, in a sense, it is completely absurd to expect a Bills win this weekend. Not because the competition is great, but because demanding any more of this Buffalo Bills team seems greedy at this point. After the joy that they've given us these past three weeks, it is completely fair to give them a pass this week in the event that they play down to their opponent. After all, 3-1 is still good for tops in the AFC East, and still puts the Bills on track for a season that is more than most fans could have reasonably hoped.
That said, given the opponent, a loss this weekend is simply not a result I can accept. If we want this storyline of the Bills shaking off the reputation of league joke to continue, then the Bills need to get a win on Sunday against the Bengals - the team that is and has been the real, true joke of the NFL for the past decade, both on and off the field. Silver lining be damned - and after the last three weeks, there is enough silver lining to last a while - but a loss to the embarrassment that is the Cincinnati Bengals would be a significant regression for our boys in red, white and blue.
They say that "to be the best, you have to beat the best." Well, I say that "to be the worst, you have to lose to the worst." And the Bengals have done just that, year after year.
Putting aside all of this on-the-field dominance, the off-the-field differences between these two teams is also stark. Where the Bills have, for ages now, put a premium on finding "high character guys" - often to the unfortunate detriment of the product we fans get each Sunday - the Bengals are forever plagued by the awful character of their football players. Where the Bills ship out Marshawn Lynch following arguably minor legal troubles (and I think those issues did, in the end, separate Lynch from the team), the Bengals sign Cedric Benson in 2008, shortly after a grand jury failed to indict him on charges stemming from a May 2008 arrest (the allegations included DUI and resisting arrest), and after he was arrested again in June of that year.
Oh, and speaking of Cedric Benson, what's he up to these days? That's right - still with the Bengals and facing a three game suspension following a plea deal he worked out in connection with two assault cases, one of which occurred this summer during the lockout. Does that mean he's not going to play? Of course not. The dude, high character and all, is appealing his suspension, and his team, NEVER concerned with the off-field conduct of its players, is backing him. Maybe there's a solid contractual reason why the Bengals are playing him, but it strikes me as yet another example of the Bengals clinging to great (or marginally good) football players who double as awful human beings.
These kinds of observations of the Bengals are nothing new. Countless articles have been written about the trending criminal elements on this team. Indeed, with all of these lingering issues over the years, I suspect that Ochocinco's antics in Cincy were more than welcome since they distracted the press from the countless character issues within the Bengals' locker room. Nothing like a little smoke and mirrors to keep our eyes elsewhere.
So, with the historical record against the Bengals, and the moral comparisons between the two organizations, the Bills really need this victory to make it abundantly clear that they're leaving the failures of the past behind. To make it clear that the Bills are - as they have been for two decades now - in a different class than teams like the Cincinnati Bengals.
To complete the point, let's consider recent events for a moment - the Bills take a game from the New England Patriots that should have rightfully been theirs. The Pats, going up 21-0 to a team they have so thoroughly manhandled over the past several years, should have won that game. The fact that they didn't is a testament to the Bills, sure, but its also a testament to just how shaken the Pats can get if you start to get a few breaks and start to make decent reads on their bread-and-butter offense. When you play the Pats, neither of these things happens very often and, as a result, the Pats remain tied or ahead of the Bills in many power rankings this week. In short, the Pats have earned their reputation, and the Week 3 loss - despite being a colossal choke which revealed glaring weaknesses on that team - did little to change how most of the football watching country feels about them. Indeed, many people - myself included - still see the AFC East crown as the Pats to lose.
Of course, the Week 3 win did a ton to change the way people think about the Bills. People are talking about Buffalo as contenders, which is refreshing for fans who thought they played like contenders down the stretch last year by proving they could hang with the best (sometimes...), and also for fans who have always felt that the inspired, albeit sporadic, play of the Bills has often been overlooked by NFL observers. But, unlike the Pats, who can lose and still be considered rather dominant, the Bills' reputation - including how we fans feel about them - hangs in the balance again this week. And this is especially true because it's the Bengals.
Where the win over the Pats brought us into the conversation of possible winners over the course of the season, a loss to the Bengals - the lowly and outlaw Bengals - would, I think, have an even greater impact in the opposite direction.
Of course, reputation likely matters little, if at all, to a team full of guys who have always had something to prove. Yet, with a team of overachievers taking the field with a level of swagger long unseen from our Bills, you have to wonder what kind of impact a Week 4 loss would have on that X-Factor which has improbably brought the Bills to a 3-0 record. In other words, perhaps a loss to the Bengals is important not because of what we fans might think about it, but because of what this team of now dominant footballers might start to think about themselves.
The upside of all of this doomsday-ing is that the Bills should win this weekend. Up against passing and rushing offenses ranked 24th and 17th overall, respectively, the Bills should finally have a game where they don't need to score 30 points to win. (I ignore, here, the decent rankings of their defense in terms of yards allowed, due to the fact they they have only played garbage teams who struggle to move the ball).
But, as we know, there's a reason they play the games, and for a Bengals team eager to turn a page on their own history of getting buggered by a single opponent year after year, this could be a chance of their own to do some world-shocking. Chan and Fitz talked up their defense quite a bit in their press conferences today, so maybe there is a real reason to worry about what might go down this weekend. Let's hope not.
Fuck, MJ is still the shit. This video rules. Except for the unnecessary, orgasmic screaming that takes over during the 6th minute. Unless that's your thing. In which case, have at it hoss.
Oh, and you should follow me on Twitter. And if you're not on Twitter, get on that shit. It is where it's at for Buffalo sports fans this year. You will not be disappointed. Unless you are lame and don't like your sports to be fun, in which case may you forever dwell in the depths of your disappointment.