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How Hard Were the Bengals Really Trying Last Week?

There are two ways to look at last week's Jets-Bengals season finale at Giants Stadium. One is that the Bengals — either because they preferred to play the Jets over the Texans, or because they didn't really care who they played — rolled over to set up a rematch tomorrow afternoon in Cincinnati. The other way to look at it, of course, is that the Jets were simply hungrier and better, and that last week could be an indication of things to come. It hinges on whether you think the Bengals were trying.

For what it's worth, the company line is that they really were trying to win, at least initially. (Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth blamed the 37–0 loss on vagaries such as lack of focus and preparation.) But unofficial team spokesperson Chad Ochocinco called the offense "vanilla," implying that they didn't throw everything they have at the Jets. We choose to believe this theory.

Even if the Bengals really did intend to lose, they had to at least give the appearance of caring, unlike, say, Indianapolis, who pulled Peyton Manning in a close game the week before. They'd want to avoid announcing to the Jets that they think they're no good and can't wait to meet them in a game that counts. But just because lots of your starters are on the field doesn't mean they're necessarily trying. We'll call this the Randy Moss Theory. Carson Palmer completed just 9.1 percent of his passes before leaving the game early — the first time all season it's been below 50 percent. The Jets' defense isn't that good.

Of course, without a healthy Ochocinco — he played in the first half after injuring his knee during warm-ups — the Bengals' whole offense is severely weakened, and the play-calling is bound to be more conservative. Vanilla even. (We'll call this the Kevin Gilbride Corollary.) Darrelle Revis could very well shut down Ochocinco tomorrow, but he hasn't truly had to yet. Ochocinco's knee is fine now — he's back to having sex and everything — so tomorrow he'll get his chance to shut him down for real.

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