The Cincinnati Bengals are looking to finish the season on a high note with two games left, but if they don’t get a win Sunday at Miami, they at least get a consolation prize.
They are among four teams in the mix for the top overall draft pick in 2020; however, if the Bengals (1-13) lose Sunday (or next week), they clinch it. The Dolphins, New York Giants and Washington Redskins are all sitting at 3-11.
Cincinnati finishes the season Dec. 29 at home against the Cleveland Browns.
Here are five storylines to watch Sunday:
1. Bungle for Burrow
Fans might be more interested in draft positioning than wins at this point, but the Bengals are tuning out the noise as coach Zac Taylor wants to build momentum for next season with some on-field results.
It’s hard for anyone to avoid now, though, especially with a “Bungle for Burrow” hashtag going around on social media with a nod to LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. He also has been the subject of banners at Paul Brown Stadium the last three home games.
»RELATED: A.J. Green talks about his future as Bengal
Boomer Esiason even welcomed Burrow to Cincinnati already, gifting him an orange and black tiger-striped helmet from “one Bengals player to the next” on “The NFL Today” show the day after Burrow won the Heisman.
“I know that it sorts itself out in two weeks, so that’s all that matters,” Taylor said when asked if he was aware of the draft implications that come with Sunday’s game. “We just need to focus on winning these games, and then the offseason is the offseason. We deal with it when it comes.”
2. Milestone tracker
Joe Mixon will be running Sunday with an eye on 1,000. He needs just 75 yards rushing to reach the milestone for a second straight year and is coming off two straight 130-yard rushing efforts.
“Joe is a great running back,” Taylor said. “He’s done the things we’ve asked to do. These last few weeks, we’ve really leaned on him, and he’s done a great job in combination with Gio (HB Giovani Bernard) and those guys up front. I’m very happy that he’s here and that we have him.”
»RELATED: Atkins gets another Pro Bowl nod
The third-year running back was limited in Thursday’s practice because of a calf injury but returned to full participation Friday and is expected to play. The Bengals have everyone else they thought they would except guard John Miller, who is still out with a concussion. Billy Price likely will start at right guard in his place, while Michael Jordan remains at left guard.
3. Bouncing back
Andy Dalton is coming off a four-interception performance against New England last week and will be looking to bounce back. The same could be said for Tyler Boyd, who got beat by Stephon Gilmore in coverage most of the day with just two catches on six targets when Gilmore was on him. Gilmore stepped in front of him on two passes for interceptions, including one that he turned into a 64-yard return for a touchdown.
Dalton now has more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (11), and he’s already feeling the pressure of a hazy future. The Bengals already putting him on notice they were looking ahead to the draft when Taylor benched him during the Week 9 bye for a three-game trial with rookie Ryan Finley. Last year, he beat the Dolphins at home, completing 20 of 30 passes for 248 yards and one touchdown with one interception, but he’s 2-2 against them in his career.
“That’s not what we’re thinking about,” Dalton said regarding the future. “For us, we have two games left and we want to win both of these games. Regardless of who’s out there, regardless of who we’re going against, we’re going to do whatever we can to win.”
Boyd, like Mixon, is nearing 1,000 yards as he has 76 catches for 859 yards this season. He topped the milestone last year for the first time and remains Dalton’s biggest weapon with A.J. Green still out and John Ross still working back to his early-season form following an eight-week break on the injured/reserve list.
4. Scoring opportunities
The Bengals have gone seven games and 41 drives without scoring a second-half touchdown, but the forecast looks favorable to end that drought Sunday.
They go from playing the best defense in the NFL (the Patriots) last week to playing the worst defense this week, as Miami allows a league-high 31.0 points per game. The Dolphins have allowed scores on 90.6 percent of red-zone trips (48 of 53) and 33 of those were touchdowns (62.3 percent).
Miami has two defensive players who are questionable. Taco Charlton and tackle Zach Sieler are both dealing with ankle injuries.
5. Getting to Fitzpatrick
The Dolphins lead the league in sacks allowed with 54, and 15-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is known to give defenses a chance to make plays, as he’s had his share of four-interception games as well. He has 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this year.
Cincinnati’s defense has been stressing turnovers and showing improvement in that area, as well as in pressuring the quarterback, so this could be a good opportunity for the defense.
Miami's offense is among the worst in the league, scoring 17.2 points per game (only slightly better than the last-ranked Bengals) and averaging just 290.6 yards per game (ranked 29th). The Dolphins rush for an average of just 72.1 yards per game, a league low. Fullback Chandler Cox is questionable with a shoulder injury.
Bengals at Dolphins, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
About the Author