Bengals among four teams ready to close out year with road win

  • By Jason Feller
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It takes a lot to win on the road in the NFL, but there are four teams that possess the ingredients necessary to pull off the difficult feat in Week 16. These four are in a unique position to get a road win based on trends, past history and surrounding circumstances entering this weekend's action.

The Steelers, Eagles, Chiefs and Bengals all appear to be in position to claim road victories. The Steelers travel to Miami to square off against the Dolphins, the Eagles are taking on the rival Cowboys, the Chiefs face the Broncos, and the Bengals will do battle with the Jets. Each matchup provides an opportunity for the visiting team to get a win.

Game: Pittsburgh at Miami (1 p.m. ET)

Venue: Land Shark Stadium

Last time at site: Ben Roethlisberger made his first career start as the Steelers pounded the Dolphins, 13-3, on Sept. 26, 2004.

Reason for road optimism: Pittsburgh's five-game losing skid is all but forgotten after two straight thrilling victories. The earlier slump put the Steelers in perilous playoff position, but by winning in each of the last two weeks, they have given themselves a chance. If they are able to take care of business in Miami, and get some help, then they will have an opportunity to defend their Super Bowl title. While the odds may be long, the 2008 Eagles and 2006 Chiefs are among teams that recently earned playoff spots because everything fell just right. Motivation is a crucial factor to win on the road, and with the playoffs still in sight, Pittsburgh will have plenty.

While Miami is technically still alive in the playoff race, it needs even more help than Pittsburgh does to gain entry into the postseaason. Also, unlike the Steelers, the Dolphins have endured a pair of bitter defeats over the past couple weeks. They followed a dispiriting overtime loss to the Titans two weeks ago with a lackluster outing against the Texans. Coach Tony Sparano's renowned late-season brilliance (he was 6-0 in December until these last two losses) has rapidly evaporated, and the reeling Dolphins appear ripe for the picking.

Game: Philadelphia at Dallas (4:15 p.m. ET)

Venue: Cowboys Stadium

Last time at site: Tony Romo threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cowboys past the Eagles, 41-37, on Sept. 15, 2008.

Reason for road optimism: Historically, the Eagles have struggled mightily against the Cowboys. They trail the overall series 55-44 (including the playoffs) and have been especially woeful in Dallas. Philadelphia is just 18-33 in 51 trips to Dallas. Despite that overall domination by the Cowboys, the Eagles have turned it around since Donovan McNabb entered the fray. In 18 career starts against the Cowboys, McNabb is 11-7, and perhaps even more impressively, he even has a winning record at Dallas (5-4). Such a strong recent history of success will give the Eagles a healthy dose of confidence that they can go into Dallas and emerge with the NFC East title.

The Cowboys have answered the critics with two big December wins. Tony Romo is playing great to close out the season, and the team has defied many observers who expected another December meltdown. All that being said, Dallas has one more significant psychological hurdle to clear -- and that is the Eagles. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles in Philadephia earlier this year, but the stakes were not as high in that game. Dallas will be reminded constantly throughout the week of its 44-6 loss to Philadelphia in last year's finale, and if things go south for the Cowboys early in this game, it could cause some doubt to creep in the players' minds.
Game: Kansas City at Denver (4:15 p.m. ET)

Venue: Invesco Field

Last time at site: Jay Cutler passed for 286 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Broncos past the Chiefs, 24-17, on Dec. 7, 2008

Reason for road optimism: Contrary to what would seem logical, the Chiefs have played far better on the road this season. Though they possess one of the league's most dedicated fan bases and have enjoyed a decisive homefield advantage at Arrowhead Stadium historically, for some reason this year, Kansas City has played very poorly at home. In seven road games, the Chiefs have a 2-5 record, and have been outscored by just 59 points, as opposed to their 1-7 record at home, in which they were outscored by 91 points. Kansas City has endured another rough season, but knocking out the rival Broncos could salvage it to a degree. The Chiefs will have no pressure, and plenty of inspiration -- a dangerous combination.

Denver has not dealt well with adversity this year. When everything was going wonderfully for the Broncos early in the year, they jumped out to a 6-0 mark. Once tough times hit, however, they have faltered badly. They are just 2-6 since their fast start, and have already had one disappointing home loss to the rival Raiders. Denver standout wide receiver Brandon Marshall suffered a leg injury at practice this week, and while he is unlikely to miss Sunday's game, even if he is slowed by the ailment, it could hurt the Broncos. Fellow wideout Eddie Royal has been banged up as well, and the running game has tailed off recently. One year after limping to an 8-8 finish, the Broncos appear poised to do so again.

Game: Cincinnati at N.Y. Jets (8:20 p.m. ET)

Venue: Giants Stadium

Last time at site: New York RB Thomas Jones accounted for three touchdowns as the Jets defeated the Bengals, 26-14, on Oct. 12, 2008.

Reason for road optimism: While there is the chance that Cincinnati could rest most of its starters, and play this game as more of a preseason outing, the Bengals' players seem to want to go all out. Chad Ochocinco says he pestered coach Marvin Lewis constantly in the hopes he could play, and the team may just approach this game with some intensity, given how it has struggled over the past month. Cincinnati has not been sharp in recent weeks, but by ending the season on a high note and eliminating the Jets from the playoffs, it will establish positive momentum heading into the playoffs. The desire to find that rhythm may just outweigh any concerns about resting up.

The Jets have teased their fans many times over the past three decades, and this game could provide just the latest chapter to that novel of discontent. Everything fell into place for New York last week. The Colts removed their starters in the third quarter, allowing the Jets to rally for the win, and then the Dolphins, Jaguars and Broncos all lost, giving the Jets control of their own destiny. Unfortunately for New York, Cincinnati is not a good matchup. The Jets rely on their running game and defense. The Bengals, however, have the league's second-ranked rush defense and excel at winning close, low-scoring games. Additionally, Cincinnati has just the kind of playmaking cornerbacks that have befuddled Mark Sanchez all year. Giants Stadium may just close out with another loss, and more fans storming to the exits in anger.


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